Friends of the Earth Scotland today released a list of the most polluted streets in Scotland which confirms that many streets are still failing to meet Scottish safety standards. The environmental campaign group analysed official Scottish Government data for two harmful pollutants, nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and coarse particles (PM10) which are known to be linked with serious health problems including heart attacks, strokes, respiratory illness and early death. [1 – 4]

The results have been published in light of news that the Scottish government may face court action if it fails to tackle the illegal levels of air pollution in Scotland’s major cities quickly enough. [5]

Air Pollution campaigner Emilia Hanna stated:

“Streets are breaking legal limits in each major city in Scotland, demonstrating just how serious and widespread Scotland’s air pollution health crisis is. Air pollution causes over 2,000 early deaths in Scotland each year at a cost of over £1.1 billion to the economy. Air pollution increases the risk of heart attacks, strokes and asthma attacks and the main culprit is traffic.

“The Scottish Government’s Clean Air Strategy has good aspirations but needs resources and energy behind it to tackle the scourge of dirty air in our towns and cities. The government must support local authorities with funding to implement low emission zones in all major cities.  It must also increase its investment in walking and cycling paths so that it becomes safer and more convenient for people to leave their cars at home. It is unacceptable that the Government is throwing £3bn at dualling the A9 while funding for walking, cycling and public transport, and measures to improveair quality remains very low. That is why we are calling on the Scottish Government to reallocate a portion of its motorways budget to active travel in the next budget. [6]

The results for 2015:

Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2)

Top 8 most polluted streets for nitrogen dioxide in 2015.

Figures in microgrammes per cubic metre (μg/m3), European legal limit 40 (annual mean)


Edinburgh St John’s Road – 65

Glasgow Hope Street – 60

Dundee Seagate – 50

Perth Atholl Street – 48

Dundee Lochee Road – 48

Aberdeen Union Street – 46

Edinburgh Queensferry Road – 41

Aberdeen Wellington Road – 41


The Scottish air quality objective is 40 (μg/m3), so all these sites fail the objective.

The Air Quality (Scotland) Regulations 2000 required this objective to have been met by 2005.


The European Ambient Air Quality Directive sets the same legal limit for NO2 , with which the deadline for compliance was 1 January 2010. Following a legal action, the Scottish Government has been forced to come up with fresh plans to show how it will achieve compliance with European law in as short a time as possible. [7]


Small Particles (PM10)

Top 8 most polluted streets for particulate matter in 2015

Figures in microgrammes per cubic metre (μg/m3), Scottish Air Quality Objective: 18 (annual mean)


Edinburgh Salamander St – 23

Aberdeen Wellington Road- 22

Perth Atholl Street – 20

Aberdeen Market Street – 19

Glasgow Dumbarton Road – 19

Dundee Lochee Road – 19

Falkirk West Bridge Street – 18

Rutherglen Main Street – 18


The Scottish air quality objective is 18 (μg/m3), so all these sites fail the objective.

The Air Quality (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 2002 required this objective to have been met by 2010.


Hanna continued:

“St John’s Road in Edinburgh now has the unfortunate title of being the most polluted street in Scotland with nitrogen dioxide levels well above Scottish safety standards.  It was welcome news that Councillors rejected a supermarket proposal on this street in October, but Edinburgh Council needs to take much more drastic action, including looking at restricting the most polluting vehicles with a Low Emission Zone.” [8]

“Communities are becoming much more aware of air pollution problems and are frustrated by the lack of action by authorities. 2015 saw concerted opposition to the St John’s Road supermarket proposal and groups springing up in Glasgow to demand the council does more.

“Four years after we first started publishing the list of the most polluted streets, we still find illegal levels, often in the same locations year after year.  These are streets where people live, work and relax. The repeat offenders show us that local councils and the Scottish Government are not treating this public health crisis seriously enough.

“Overall there have been some improvements in the figures for 2015, which will be welcome news for those who are especially susceptible to air pollution.  The exceptionally wet weather in  2015 will have reduced local air pollution levels, masking some of the underlying problem. The Scottish Government and local councils need to deliver long-term compliance with the safety standards.

“Glasgow Council is no longer measuring harmful particle pollution (PM10) in Anderston near a primary school, and on Hope Street in the city centre. Both these streets last year broke the safety standards so it is very hard to understand why the monitors have been switched off in these key known problem areas.  You can’t make a pollution problem go away just by ignoring it.”

Edinburgh residents 
Edinburgh Resident Irene Orr, recently retired, is a long-term asthma sufferer. She relies on an extensive range of medication each day to manage her asthma.

“There is no doubt that the traffic in Edinburgh has an impact on my asthma. The very calm days are the worst as traffic fumes don’t disperse as well.

“One of the reasons I come to Corstorphine so rarely is because there is always traffic congestion on St John’s Road and it’s so polluted.

“The Council needs to crack down on people sitting in their cars with their engines idling.

“The Scottish Government needs to provide more alternatives to the car, we need cheaper public transport, and more of it.”

Corstorphine resident Scott Smith, 65 said,

“There is a huge amount of traffic on St John’s Road between Drum Brae roundabout and Clermiston Road. You can literally smell the diesel fumes on St John’s Road. The buses these days have much better emissions standards and can help solve the problem. It’s the cars and the vans which are the worst polluters.

“The traffic on this stretch has always been bad but it has got much worse because of more cars on the roads and in particular, cars with just one driver at rush hour. I don’t see the point of people driving with no passengers when there are park and rides, trams, and cheap options including buses.  The Council should do much more to get the cars off the roads including restricting parking in the city centre and encouraging people to use public transport.”

Friends of the Earth Scotland worked with the Sunday Herald who revealed this story as an exclusive on Sunday 17th January

Notes to Editors

[1] More regional quotes are available on request.

[2] For visual resources including graphs, a map, and infographics, visit http://www.foe-scotland.org.uk/polluted-streets-2015-graphics

[3] Our analysis used data from the Automatic Monitoring Stations around Scotland which has been ratified from January 2015 – September 2015, with the October – December results to be ratified by this April. The list has been compiled based on information from the Government’s Scottish Air Quality Website (www.scottishairquality.co.uk) and we have only included data with over 80% data capture.  The monitors were a combination of roadside and kerbside monitors. It should be noted that at different sites, exposure levels to the general public will be different.

[4] Health impacts of air pollution:

Air pollution from fine particles (PM2.5) is responsible for 2000 early deaths in Scotland each year according to 2014 research published by Public Health England. (Public Health England, “Estimating Local Mortality Burdens associated with Particulate Air Pollution” (April 2014)). That is more than ten times the number of people who are killed in road crashes each year.

Exposure to NO2 also causes early death and the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants is due to publish figures on how many early deaths are caused by NO2 in 2016;

In 2013 the WHO’s specialized cancer agency, the IARC, classified the cocktail of outdoor air pollution as carcinogenic to humans and named it as a leading cause of cancer deaths, with these conclusions applying to all regions of the world IARC Press Release, 17 October 2013, “Outdoor air pollution a leading environmental cause of cancer deaths” )

In January 2014, research from a European study found that long-term exposure to small and fine particles (PM10 and PM2.5) increases the risk of coronary events including heart attacks and unstable angina, with the link being seen even at levels of exposure below the current European and Scottish pollution standards (Research published in the British Medical Journal, “Long term exposure to ambient air pollution and incidence of acute coronary events: prospective cohort study and meta-analysis in 11 European cohorts from the ESCAPE Project” (Jan 2014) BMJ 2014;348:f7412)

Children, the elderly and the sick are disproportionately affected by air pollution.

Ambient air pollution has been linked with restricted foetal growth in European countries, which is linked with adverse respiratory health in childhood (“Ambient air pollution and low birthweight: a European cohort study (ESCAPE)” The Lancet Respiratory Medicine, Volume 1, Issue 9, Pages 695 – 704, (Nov 2013))

It is estimated that air pollution costs the Scottish economy over £1.1 billion each year in days lost at work and costs to the NHS. (Extrapolated from a Defra assessment that air pollution costs the UK economy as a whole £16 bn per year, based on 29,000 UK- wide deaths from air pollution: Defra, “Impact pathway guidance for valuing changes in air quality” (May 2013))

[5] BBC News Scotland, “Legal threat over air pollution levels” 13 January 2015, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-35304167

[6] See http://act.foe-scotland.org.uk/lobby/active-travel-budget for more details.

[7] Victory in Landmark Air Pollution Legal Ruling Will Force Glasgow Clean Up (29/045) http://www.foe-scotland.org.uk/glasgow-air-pollution-legal-victory

[8] Edinburgh Councillors reject plans for new supermarket on Scotland’s most polluted road (21/10/15) http://www.foe-scotland.org.uk/node/2078

[9] Friends of the Earth Scotland is:

* Scotland’s leading environmental campaigning organisation

* An independent Scottish charity with a network of thousands of supporters and active local groups across Scotland

* Part of the largest grassroots environmental network in the world, uniting over 2 million supporters, 75 national member groups, and some 5,000 local activist groups.