Health crisis warning on Scotland’s pollution

Queensferry Road in Edinburgh where NO2 air pollution is worsening. Picture: Ian Rutherford

Queensferry Road in Edinburgh where NO2 air pollution is worsening. Picture: Ian Rutherford

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AIR pollution is causing a public health crisis in Scotland, according to environmental campaigners.

Friends of the Earth Scotland analysed data which it said looked at the country’s dirtiest streets.

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Official figures for two toxic pollutants reveal that pollution levels persistently broke Scottish and European air quality standards last year, the campaign group said.

Friends of the Earth Scotland looked at figures for two key pollutants, nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and “particulate matter”.

When it came to nitrogen dioxide, it found that 13 Scottish sites failed to come below the European legal limit in 2014.

The places where NO2 air pollution appeared to be worsening, compared to the previous year, were Edinburgh’s St John’s Road and Queensferry Road, Dundee’s Whitehall Street, Falkirk’s West Bridge Street and Rutherglen’s Main Street.

Where improvements have been seen elsewhere, they have been too slow, the campaign group said, arguing that Scotland was supposed to meet the European legal limit on NO2 by the start of 2010.

When particulate matter was analysed, 19 sites were deemed to be failing below Scottish standards.

The places where such air pollution appears to be worsening are Aberdeen’s Wellington Road, Newton in West Lothian, Chapelhall’s Main Street, the A8 in Greenock and Whirlies Roundabout in East Kilbride.

Emilia Hanna, air pollution campaigner for Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: “Yet again, Scotland’s streets are shown to have dangerous levels of toxic pollution which are breaking legal limits that were due to be met in 2010. Pollution levels in our urban areas are showing little sign of improvement with some key streets even more polluted than in 2013.

“Air pollution is responsible for more than 2,000 deaths in Scotland each year and costs the NHS here up to £2 billion annually. The time has come for our polluted air to be treated as the public health crisis it really is.”

“Although today’s air pollution is mostly invisible, its impact on our health is crystal clear. Breathing in polluted air increases your chances of having a heart attack, a stroke, or developing cancer.

“Children are also particularly vulnerable, with exposure to air pollution restricting lung development, leading to long-term health problems. It has even been linked with autism in children. It is unjust that children, who are not in any way responsible, are suffering the most.”

She went on: “The Scottish Government is starting to show signs of action but it is painfully slow.

“A new Low Emission Strategy was promised by the end of 2014 but has yet to appear.

“The Low Emission Strategy is the crucial blueprint which should spell out when people in Scotland will finally be able to breathe clean air. If the Scottish Government gets it right, then its Low Emission Strategy will save thousands of lives every year.”

The Scottish Government said data released last year shows that between 1990 and 2011 nitrogen dioxide has decreased by 65% and particulates by 58%.

A spokeswoman said: “The Scottish Government, working in partnership with Scotland’s 32 local authorities, continues to make progress in improving our air quality.

“Data shows that significant reductions in air pollutants have been achieved since 1990 and further decreases are predicted in the future, given our knowledge of the likely impacts of planned investment.

“Although there has been excellent progress, we recognise that there is more to be done to deliver further benefits for human and environmental health where areas of poorer air quality remain.

“We recognise that air pollution disproportionately affects the health of the most vulnerable members of society - the very young, the elderly and those with existing cardiovascular and respiratory conditions - and can have a very real impact on quality of life for these individuals.

“Following work with a wide range of partners and stakeholders the Scottish Government will launch later this month a consultation on a Low Emission Strategy.

“This will set out the contribution that reduced air pollution can make to delivering sustainable economic growth and enhancing the quality of life for communities across Scotland, with a focus on progress in Scottish towns and cities over the coming years.”

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