M8 cutting through Glasgow

‘It’s a huge pity that it took a deadly pandemic to bring our air quality within legal limits’

“It’s a huge pity that it took a deadly pandemic to bring our air quality within legal limits,” muses Gavin Thomson, an Air Pollution campaigner with Friends of the Earth Scotland.

“Scotland’s car-choked transport system was brought to a halt in Spring, and this is why our annual averages of pollution are much lower than previous years,” he continues, adding: “Any improvements in air quality in Scotland have been short-lived with traffic quickly returning to pre-pandemic levels.” 

To put what he’s talking about in perspective, last year will go down as being the first since monitoring began that Scotland doesn’t record illegally high levels of air pollution.

Ordinarily such a thing might be cause for some small hope, especially when you stop to reflect on the tragic death of nine-year-old schoolgirl Ella Kissi-Debrah – attributed in part to polluted air.

History was made last month when a coroner decided after a two week inquiry that her death in 2013 was caused by acute respiratory failure, severe asthma and exposure to pollution near her home in south London.

Thomson said: “We need to remember that pollution damages our health through long-term exposure, such as living near a main road throughout your childhood.

“The reduced pollution for a couple of months during the strictest lockdown is unlikely to have many long-term health benefits.

“The health links between air pollution and Covid-19 should push us to redouble our efforts to clean up our air and protect public health.

“The Scottish Government’s recently published ‘Cleaner Air for Scotland’ strategy contains very few ideas for reducing polluting traffic and cleaning up our transport system.

“The Government and Councils must seize this moment to rethink how we plan our towns and cities, and how we move around.”

He added: “Temporary improvements in air quality arrived at an enormous cost to our communities and societies.

“There was no intention or concerted political action to reduce emissions, which is why the falls were not maintained when restrictions eased.

“We need a just and green recovery, including investment in our public transport and more options for safe walking and cycling, to improve the air we breathe permanently.”

IN FOCUS | Scotland’s dirtiest roads

Dirtiest streets for Nitrogen Dioxide 

The European Ambient Air Quality Directive set a limit for Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) of 40 microgrammes per cubic metre. The deadline for this limit to have been met was 2010.

Location /  NO2 Nitrogen Dioxide Annual mean (µg/m3)

  • Glasgow, Hope Street 35.87
  • Dundee, Lochee Road 31.09
  • Perth, Atholl Street 27.62
  • Dundee, Seagate 27.60
  • Inverness, Academy Street 26.99
  • Edinburgh, Nicolson Street 26.50
  • Falkirk, West Bridge Street 25.96
  • Edinburgh, St John’s Road 25.77
  • Glasgow, Dumbarton Road  25.29
  • Aberdeen, Wellington Road 24.99

Dirtiest streets for fine particle

The Scottish annual statutory standard for particulate matter (PM10) is 18 micrograms per cubic metre. The deadline for this standard to have been met was 31st December 2010.

Location /     PM10 annual mean (µg/m3)

  • Edinburgh, Salamander St 15.93
  • Falkirk, Main St Bainsford 12.20
  • North Ayrshire, Irvine High St 11.35
  • Aberdeen, Wellington Road 11.29
  • Fife, Cupar 11.28
  • Edinburgh, Queensferry Road 11.16
  • Aberdeen, Anderson Dr 11.12
  • Glasgow, Byres Road 10.84
  • Aberdeen, King Street 10.74
  • West Lothian, Broxburn 10.58

Data supplied by Friends of the Earth Scotland. Read it in full here.

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