New figures ranking Scotland’s dirtiest streets confirm that air pollution remains a public health crisis in Scotland, according to analysis by Friends of the Earth Scotland. [1]

The campaign group analysed official 2014 air pollution data for two toxic pollutants and revealed that pollution levels persistently broke Scottish and European air quality standards, with devastating health impacts. [2]

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. [3]

“Air pollution is responsible for more than 2000 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.

“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. [4]

“We need the Scottish Government to cut traffic levels and clean up vehicle emission standards. We need better cycle and walking paths, cleaner public transport, and Low Emission Zones rolled out in cities across the country.

“To have any chance of success this strategy must provide money for cash-strapped councils to pay for desperately-needed measures on air pollution. It is very worrying that the Draft Budget shows no increase in funds for action on air pollution and suggests the Scottish Government plans on spending 200 times as much money next year on building new roads as on tackling deadly air pollution.” [5]

Low Emission Zones are where the most polluting vehicles are banned from key areas of cities and have proven to be successful in several major European countries including London.

Graphs and pollution “heat maps” for Edinburgh and Glasgow are available at http://www.foe-scotland.org.uk/air-pollution-2014-graphics

      

The results for 2014 – results are shown for two key pollutants, Nitrogen Dioxide and Particulate Matter.

Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2)

Number of sites failing European NO2 legal limit in 2014: 13

Results presented as follows:

Rank, Street name, city, Nitrogen Dioxide Annual Average in 2014 (figures in μg/m3), Nitrogen Dioxide Average in 2013, is 2014 an increase or decrease on 2013 levels?

1, Hope Street, Glasgow, 65, 65, same
2, St John's Road, Edinburgh, 60, 57, increase
3, Seagate, Dundee, 55, 58, decrease
4, Wellington Road, Aberdeen, 48, 52, decrease
5, Lochee Road, Dundee, 47, 50, decrease
6, Union Street, Aberdeen, 46, 49, decrease
7, Queensferry Road, Edinburgh, 46, 45, increase
8, Atholl Street, Perth, 45, 49, decrease
9, Whitehall Street, Dundee, 43, 41, increase
10, West Bridge Street, Falkirk, 42, 39, increase
11, Market Street, Aberdeen, 41, 43, decrease
12, Main Street, Rutherglen, 41, 37, increase
13, Meadowside, Dundee, 40, 49, decrease

Sites where air pollution from NO2 appears to be worsening are Edinburgh’s St John’s Road (increase of 3 microgrammes per cubic metre), Edinburgh’s Queensferry Road (increase of 1), Dundee’s Whitehall Street (increase of 2), Falkirk’s West Bridge Street (increase of 3), Rutherglen’s Main Street (increase of 4).

Where improvements have been seen, they have been too slow: the Scottish standard and European legal limit for Nitrogen Dioxide is 40 microgrammes per cubic metre (μg/m3 ) so all of these sites fail the standard. Scotland was supposed to meet the European legal limit on NO2 by 1 January 2010, with an extension of up to 2015 at the very latest, and the Scottish standard by 31 December 2005.

Particulate Matter (PM10)

Number of sites failing Scottish Standard for PM10 in 2014: 19

Results presented as follows:

Rank, Street name, city/town, PM10 Annual Average in 2014, PM10 Annual Average in 2013, is 2014 an increase or decrease on 2013 levels?

1, Market Street, Aberdeen, 35, 35, same
2, Wellington Road, Aberdeen, 23, 22, increase
3, Main Street (A904), Newton, 22, 19, increase
4, Salamander Street, Edinburgh, 22, 22, same
5, Hope Street, Glasgow, 22, 23, decrease
6, Atholl Street, Perth, 22, 22, same
7, Main Street, Chapelhall, 21, 17, increase
8, King Street, Aberdeen, 20, 19, increase
9, High Street, Crieff, 20, 20, same
10, St Marnock Street, Kilmarnock, 19, no data, n/a
11, Dumbarton Road, Glasgow, 19, 19, same
12, Main Street, Rutherglen, 19, 19, same
13, West Bridge Street, Falkirk, 19, 19, same
14, Queensferry Road, Edinburgh, 19, 19, same
15, Union Street, Aberdeen, 18, 20, decrease
16, Lochee Road, Dundee, 18, 18, same
17, E Hamilton Street (A8), Greenock, 18, no data, n/a*
18, High Street, Linlithgow, 18, no data, n/a
19, Whirlies Roundabout, East Kilbride, 18, 14, increase

The Scottish standard for PM10 is 18 microgrammes per cubic metre (μg/m3 ) so all of these sites fail the standard. Scotland was supposed to meet the Scottish standard by 31 December 2010.

Sites where air pollution appears to be worsening are Aberdeen’s Wellington Road (increase of 1), Newton in West Lothian (increase of 3), Chapelhall’s Main Street (increase of 4), the A8 in Greenock (increase of 4), and Whirlies Roundabout in East Kilbride (increase of 4).

Local reaction

Aberdeen

Friends of the Earth Aberdeen chair Gregor McAbery, said:

“Air pollution continues to be an invisible but ever-present health problem in Aberdeen, and will remain an issue until measures are taken to further reduce traffic in the city centre and prioritise more sustainable modes on key routes.

“The introduction of low emissions zones to cities and towns in Scotland would help to place emphasis on investment in walking/cycling, and public transport. We hope to see plans come forward in due course for a low emissions zone in Aberdeen covering the city centre and commuter key routes.

“Making more balanced transport investment decisions such as pedestrianisation would make the city more liveable and help to attract new investment and regeneration”

Glasgow

Glasgow resident, Mic Starbuck (aged 65), suffers from asthma and is especially vulnerable to air pollution. An episode of air pollution five years ago caused Mic to suffer an acute and prolonged attack of breathlessness which landed him in hospital for three days. He still attends as an outpatient.

He said: “Air pollution affects my ability to breathe, so I have to take seven kinds of medication every morning and carry an inhaler and epi-pen with me at all times. If there is an increase in air pollution when I am out, I have to seek shelter, and there are some parts of town which are no go areas for me.

“I do not think I should have to put up with dangerous air pollution every time I step outside my front door. I have the right to breathe clean air but I am excluded from normal activities and parts of Glasgow because of the poor air quality.

“The Scottish Government has a legal duty to reduce air pollution, and these results show that they can no longer hide. The fig leaf has been removed and it’s obvious that the Scottish Government and Glasgow City Council need to redouble efforts to improve air quality.

“Glasgow City Council has shown it is unwilling to take this health crisis seriously, because it has continued to kick the prospect of Low Emission Zones for the city into the long grass.”

Edinburgh

In Corstorphine, plans to build a new Waitrose supermarket on St John’s Road within a declared Pollution Zone are being opposed by local residents who are worried that the associated 140 parking spaces as part of the plans will invite more traffic and air pollution into the area.

Helen Crowley, 38, is mum of two and leads the Corstorphine Waitrose Campaign:

“There are hundreds of children walking to and from school via St John's Road every day. I was shocked to learn how bad the pollution is and what damage it can do to our health. You see a lot of children at school with asthma inhalers, more than when I was at school, and you wonder if it's due to the pollution. I worry what harm the congestion and pollution is doing to my kids.

“St John's Rd is one of Scotland’s most polluted streets. Edinburgh City Council should not approve developments that will attract more cars and lorries to the area until pollution levels are brought under control.”

Tayside

Andrew Llanwarne, Co-ordinator of Friends of the Earth Tayside said:

“Although there some improvements in the figures, It is disappointing to see that progress is still too slow in tackling Dundee’s air pollution. These streets in Dundee have been appearing on the list of Scotland’s most polluted streets for several years now.

“Despite the Council's efforts to tackle the problem, every day people are suffering the effects of breathing in a mix of toxic chemicals. Whether you travel in to the city by public transport, car, bike or on foot, we are all affected, particularly those with breathing problems.

“Although apparently traffic levels have fallen slightly in Dundee, streets are still congested at peak times. A more radical approach is needed to reduce rush-hour traffic levels. Bus services are generally good, but there are still no
park-and-ride facilities for commuters, and more could be done to encourage car sharing and cycling. Walking and cycling also have valuable health benefits, provided the air is clean.”

Notes to Editors

[1] Our analysis used ratified and provisional data of all the Automatic Monitoring Stations across Scotland. The list has been compiled based on information from the Government’s Scottish Air Quality Website (http://www.scottishairquality.co.uk) and on further discussions with consultants at Ricardo AEA.

The data looks at average levels of NO2 at the sites from 1 January 2014 until 31 December 2014 inclusive. Sites with less than 70% data capture were excluded. The monitors were a combination of roadside and kerbside monitors. It should be noted that at kerbside sites and some roadside sites, exposure levels may be at different distances from the sites. For example, Glasgow Hope Street is a Kerbside site, and the nearest relevant exposure is bars and cafes approximately 3m from the Kerb.

Queensferry Road is a roadside site, with nearest relevant exposure a property at approximately 10m from the monitoring station. Accurate site results from St John’s Road were obtained on further discussions with Ricardo AEA.

[2] Health impacts of air pollution:

Previous official research estimated that the death toll from air pollution was 29,000 deaths per year, with over 2000 deaths in Scotland (see “The Mortality Effects of Long-Term Exposure to Particulate Air Pollution in the United Kingdom”, https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/304641/COMEAP_mortality_effects_of_long_term_exposure.pdf and Public Health England, “Estimating local mortality burdens associated with particulate air pollution”, https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/estimating-local-mortality-burdens-associated-with-particulate-air-pollution). This figure only accounted for deaths from fine particles (PM2.5).
The Sunday Times newspaper reported on Sunday 30 November that the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants, an official advisory body, will publish a report in 2015 taking into account the mortality burden of Nitrogen Dioxide, showing that the premature death toll caused by road traffic pollution is around twice as high as originally thought, i.e. causing up to 60000 premature deaths across the UK. See Sunday Times, “Dirty diesel death toll hits 60,000” at http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/news/uk_news/National/article1489882.ece

Air pollution across the UK as a whole costs the NHS between £8.5 billion and £20.2 billion a year: Defra, The Air Quality Strategy for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (July 2007)

Exposure to air pollution, even at levels lower than the Scottish standards, have been shown to increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes: 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” BMJ 2014;348:f7412 (http://www.bmj.com/content/348/bmj.f7412).

The International Agency for Cancer Research, a body of the World Health Organisation named outdoor air pollution a leading cause of cancer deaths: http://www.iarc.fr/en/media-centre/iarcnews/pdf/pr221_E.pdf

To put the figure of 2000 deaths in Scotland from fine particle air pollution in context, this is:

10 times the number of deaths as people dying in road traffic accidents every year. 172 people died in road traffic accidents in 2013: http://www.transportscotland.gov.uk/statistics/j340611-09.htm

10 times the number of people dying from other health-related illnesses like obesity (Obesity was a contributing cause of death for 212 people in 2011 (Scottish Health Survey)).

Almost double the number of deaths as alcohol-related deaths: In 2013, there were 1,100 alcohol-related deaths on the basis of the current definition (http://www.gro-scotland.gov.uk/statistics/theme/vital-events/deaths/alcohol-related/main-points.html)

Almost 4 times the number of deaths as drug-related deaths: 526 drug-related deaths were registered in Scotland in 2013 (http://www.nrscotland.gov.uk/files//statistics/drug-related-deaths/2013/drugs-related-deaths-2013.pdf)

[3] Last year the European Court of Justice found the UK, including Scotland, to be in breach of a legally binding obligation to reduce pollution from Nitrogen Dioxide by the deadline of 1 January 2015 at the very latest (see Friends of the Earth Scotland Press Release, http://www.foe-scotland.org.uk/european-ruling-air-pollution)

[4] The Scottish Government is now expected to produce a Low Emission Strategy at the end of January 2015 (Scottish Parliament Written Answer Report of 5 January 2015, http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/S4_ChamberDesk/WA20150105.pdf)

[5] The detailed draft budget for 2015-16 allocates £3.15 million to improving air quality compared with £694.8 million to motorways and trunk roads infrastructure

[6] 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, 77 national member groups, and some 5,000 local activist groups. www.foe-scotland.org.uk

* Corrections:  We originally reported that the site at E Hamilton Street in Greenock had worsened for PM10 from an annual average of 14 microgrammes per cubic metre in 2013 to 18 in 2014 when in fact, there was no data for the site in 2013 due to this being a new site. Corrected as of 15th January