Air quality allows Edinburgh to breathe easy

Summer sun and good air quality at The Meadows in Edinburgh. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Summer sun and good air quality at The Meadows in Edinburgh. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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EDINBURGH’S air quality is among the best in the European Union, according to a study by French environmental organisation Respire.

There were no days last year when air pollution in Scotland’s capital exceeded “normal” levels, with only one other city – Cluj-Napoca in Romania – achieving the same level.

Edinburgh was ranked second in the list of 100 “larger” cities in the EU. Glasgow also performed well, coming in at number 29 with 33 days of below-average air quality levels.

Other UK cities made the top ten, with Coventry, Cardiff and Manchester ranked third, fourth and fifth respectively.

The report said that Edinburgh was pipped to the top spot by Cluj as the Romanian city had slightly lower average levels in the analysed air pollution indicators.

The study takes into account three polluting factors of nitrous dioxide, small particles and ozone levels, and assesses the average number of days per year the air quality is below normal and potentially more unhealthy to breathe.

“Cluj-Napoca is in front of Edinburgh because it had a better annual average of nitrous dioxide (16 microgrammes per cubic metre to 24 microgrammes per m3),” said Respire, which works to improve air quality across Europe. The difference is very low for ozone – 51 microgrammes per m3 in Edinburgh, 53 microgrammes per m3 in Cluj-Napoca.”

However, the researchers noted that the machines used to measure air pollution in Cluj were not as sensitive as in other areas of Europe and could have skewed the results.

The research, which was published in partnership with French magazine We Demain, rated London poorly at 86th, while the worst-performing cities were Sofia in Bulgaria and Milan in Italy, which suffered 320 and 272 days respectively of poor air quality.

In the report, Respire said: “If easy interpretations are to be avoided, one thing remains certain: Europe does not make the air quality and health of the citizens one of its primary objectives.”

Richard Dixon, director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, warned that the key pollution testing sites which are reported to Europe are not in the most polluted parts of Scotland’s cities.

“There are certainly cities in Europe with worse air pollution problems than Edinburgh and Glasgow, but this report gives a falsely reassuring picture,” he said.

“More than 2,000 people die each year in Scotland because of air pollution and both of 
our biggest cities have official pollution zones where levels consistently break European and Scottish health standards. It is clearly no consolation that other places in Europe are worse off.

“We need much more action to reduce traffic levels if we are to solve the air pollution problems in urban areas.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The Scottish Government takes air quality extremely seriously and we welcome this report, showing our capital city has the second-best air quality in the whole of Europe.

“By working with Scotland’s 32 local authorities, we continue to make progress. We have made significant reductions in air pollutants since 1990 and further decreases are predicted, given our knowledge of the likely impacts of investment.”