THE number of Scottish streets with dangerously high levels of air pollution has rocketed by 50% in the past year, Scotland on Sunday can reveal.
Potentially lethal cocktails of exhaust fumes, which are high enough to breach European laws, have been recorded at 21 sites compared with 14 at the end of 2007. The fact air pollution levels linked to cancer, heart disease and other life-threatening conditions are on the increase in many areas comes despite years of effort and millions of pounds invested in providing greener transport.
Sites with unacceptably high levels of pollutants are designated Air Quality Management Areas (AQMAs) and the relevant local council is required to take steps to reduce the problem.
The most recent AQMA to be designated was Cupar, Fife, in December. Falkirk Council is planning to create another AQMA after tests found streets in the town centre were breaching the safety limits.
The main pollutants are nitrogen dioxide and particulates – microscopic particles that lodge in the lungs – that are linked with a range of diseases. Around 4,000 deaths are believed to be caused by air pollution in the UK every year, with people with respiratory problems most at risk.
A report to the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa) board says: "There are now 21 Air Quality Management Areas in Scotland. The high levels of pollutants are associated with road traffic."
Environmental groups said the rising number of air quality management areas was a sign that attempts to reduce traffic pollution in Scotland's towns and cities were not working.
They also accused councils of acting too slowly to implement local "action plans" designed to reduce pollution in hotspot areas. Sepa figures reveal only seven of the 21 AQMAs have action plans in place even though this is an official requirement.
The decline in new car sales of around 30% last year is only expected to add to the problem as it means that older, more polluting, vehicles are likely to stay on the roads for longer.
The worst council area for air pollution hotspots is North Lanarkshire with AQMAs in Motherwell, Coatbridge, Whifflet, Chapelhall and Harthill. Four result from excess road traffic emissions and one from a quarrying operation.
Glasgow has four hotspots at Parkhead Cross, Byres Road, Royston Road and the city centre. Edinburgh has two in the city centre and in the Corstorphine area to the west. The other traffic-generated hotspots are in the centres of Perth, Dundee, Aberdeen, Paisley, Bishopbriggs, and at the Whirrlies roundabout near East Kilbride.
Duncan McLaren, of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: " "Thousands of people are dying every year in the UK because of air pollution. But as most of these are elderly people with respiratory problems, no-one seems to be too bothered.
"The Scottish Government had a target of stabilising traffic growth but there has been no real effort to do this which is why they are facing this problem. Unless effective measures are taken then they will face fines from Europe."