Friends of the Earth Scotland has ranked the country’s most polluted streets for 2019, and the results show Scotland is failing to improve air quality. Many areas across Scotland suffered from higher pollution levels in 2019 than in previous years. 

Campaigners say this shows the Scottish Government and Councils have been too slow in reducing car traffic in towns and cities. Years of continued Government funding for road schemes, and private transport companies failure to provide reliable, affordable public transport have created the conditions forcing people into cars. Ever-increasing levels of car ownership lead to persistently high air pollution.

Official air pollution data for 2019 was analysed, looking at two toxic pollutants which are  primarily produced by transport. Indications are that legal air safety standards which should have been met in 2010 are being breached at 7 areas across Scotland. 


Dirtiest streets for Nitrogen Dioxide 

The European Ambient Air Quality Directive set a limit for Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) of 40 microgrammes per cubic metre, so 6 sites are breaking the legal limit. The deadline for compliance was 1 January 2010.

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

Glasgow Kerbside (Hope Street) /  55.63

Edinburgh Nicolson Street / 48.81

Dundee Seagate /  43.90

Inverness Academy Street /  43.32

Dundee Lochee Road /  42.50

Edinburgh St John’s Road / 41.93


Dirtiest streets for Particulate Matter

The provisional data also indicates Salamander Street in Edinburgh has breached the legal limit for Particulate Matter – recording a figure of 19.44 µg/m3. 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.

The data shows increases on 2018 levels of pollution for Inverness, which has now breached the legal limit for NO2. There have also been significant increases in pollution in Falkirk, Perth, Bearsden, Broughty Ferry, and Byers Road in Glasgow.

Reaction to air pollution data

Friends of the Earth Scotland’s Air Pollution Campaigner, Gavin Thomson, said:
“These figures are shameful. They show that air pollution is failing to improve across Scotland, which means millions of us are at risk of serious health conditions, like asthma, heart attacks, and strokes. In many areas, pollution problems appear to be getting worse. This is dangerous for our health, and is a failure of government to protect its most vulnerable citizens.

“The UN climate negotiations coming to Glasgow in 2020 should be a wake-up call. Our transport system is unsustainable. It is harming our lungs, and causing climate change. Transport is the largest source of climate emissions in Scotland, with levels remaining pretty much the same for the last 30 years. The Scottish Government’s new climate change plan must have a transport transformation at its heart.

“If we don’t start prioritising greener transport over fossil fuelled cars, we’ll keep burning the earth and keep breathing in toxic fumes. The Government should start by committing to no new road building, and investing the billions that would save into public transport, walking and cycling. Travelling on foot or by bike should be the natural choice in our city centres for those who are able, and we need an affordable, accountable public transport network to take cars off the road. The forthcoming new air quality strategy needs to contain strong actions that will make a rapid difference.

“The four big cities in Scotland will eventually have Low Emission Zones, but other cities and larger towns are lacking momentum. The data suggests Inverness had illegal levels of air pollution in 2019. These figures should be a clear signal to all councils and the Scottish Government that measures to reduce polluting traffic and to pedestrianise built up areas shouldn’t be solely reserved for our biggest cities.

“The increase in air pollution across many streets should worry each of us. We are all at risk from toxic traffic fumes but children and the elderly are at particular risk. By ending the chokehold of cars on our public spaces, we can open our streets up to walking, cycling and create healthier, safer communities.” 

Comments from residents concerned about air pollution in their areas

Keir Murdo, 34, a data analyst who lives in Glasgow, said:

“Air pollution is an injustice. I have a young son and I’m really concerned about what he’s breathing in, and the lack of action to reduce pollution.

“I’d like to see the government and Glasgow City Council respond with the ambition we need, for air pollution and for climate emissions. We should bring First Bus back into public ownership, make public transport free, convert all buses to electric, and make it easier and safer for people to cycle in the city”.

Alison, a solicitor and a volunteer with Aberdeen Climate Action, said:

“I’m really concerned about air pollution, especially around my kids’ school at drop off and pick up. You can really taste and smell it. I set up a walking bus to try and reduce traffic around the school, because I don’t want them exposed to pollution that could have long-lasting damage to their health.”

“I think we need to, as a society, prioritise sustainable travel and take polluting vehicles completely out of some areas, or at least really reduce the need for and use of cars within more populated areas. I hope the Government can protect places like schools from excess traffic, where it is causing so much pollution.”

Claire Connachan, a Corstorphine resident, said: 

“Air pollution is something that really concerns me, as it can significantly impact the health of the most vulnerable, including children, people with disabilities and older people. Having experienced a serious lung condition, it also worries me that I am breathing such dirty air when I want to go to the local shops. Air pollution in Corstorphine is a huge problem; the area has been home to Scotland’s most polluted street for many years and air quality is yet to be markedly improved. This is an issue that also concerns residents, as air pollution is regularly raised at community council meetings in tandem with complaints about traffic. 

“Until there is meaningful action taken to reduce car journeys and enable more people to walk, cycle and take public transport for short trips, tackling air pollution is a lost cause. The Scottish Government needs to take brave decisions to reduce car use and seriously invest in active travel and public transport, instead of pumping cash into road building and promoting car-centric planning and housing decisions. I’d like City of Edinburgh Council to take action too, and help to combat dirty combustion engines by implementing a Low Emissions Zone that encompasses the whole of the city, not just its centre.”

Kirsty Martin, photographer and community arts worker in Dundee, said: 

“My children walk along Seagate every weekday to get the bus home from school. It makes me very angry that they and everyone else who regularly walks here are subjected to such disgusting levels of pollution. It is horribly ironic that those who are travelling by bus for whatever reason, in some cases to avoid using a polluting car, are having to breathe in this foul air to get to and from the city’s Bus Station.”

Kate Mathers, a PhD student who lives in Dundee’s West End said:

“It’s not fair that pedestrians, cyclists and those waiting at bus stops have to suffer the negative health impacts of breathing in the air pollution from lorries and other vehicles. I’m excited to see the plans for increased pedestrianisation in Edinburgh, and hope that Dundee City Council will follow their example. I think that the council should be aiming to create a city where walking, cycling and public transport are the easiest and cheapest options for as many people as possible.”

1.Friends of the Earth Scotland analysed data from the Automatic Monitoring Stations around Scotland. 

Data have been ratified from January 2019 – September 2019. Data with 70% data capture and over has been included. 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.

Data is available to view here: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/15ln310OrqkGjG1IZTlxynWHmxb9hcpVSKeFAKoyw65w/edit#gid=0

2. The European Ambient Air Quality Directive set a limit for NO2 annual average of 40 microgrammes per cubic metre. The deadline for compliance was 1 January 2010.

http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/STUD/2016/578986/IPOL_STU(2016)578986_EN.pdf (P.19)

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


3. Free to use, print quality photos can be downloaded from the Friends of the Earth Scotland Flickr account. They include images of spokespeople, protests and featured streets


4. Glasgow’s Low Emission Zone was launched in Dec 2018, beginning with a stipulation that 20% of buses going through the zone in Glasgow city centre need to meet the minimum emission standard. On Dec 31st 2019, this moved up to 40%. 31st Dec 2020, it is intended to increase to 60% and so on.

City of Edinburgh Council are planning for a Low Emission Zone, which will not begin until the end of 2023, with a small zone around the Old Town to restrict the very oldest, most-polluting cars, and a larger zone restricting the oldest buses, coaches and heavier vehicles.

Dundee and Aberdeen City Councils are planning their Low Emission Zones.


5. Transport is Scotland’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter. https://www.gov.scot/binaries/content/documents/govscot/publications/statistics/2019/06/scottish-greenhouse-gas-emissions-2017/documents/scottish-greenhouse-gas-emissions-2017/scottish-greenhouse-gas-emissions-2017/govscot%3Adocument/scottish-greenhouse-gas-emissions-2017.pdf P.13

6. In the 2019-20 Programme for Government, the Scottish Government committed to consult on a “transformative shift to zero or ultra-low emission city centres by 2030”.

https://www.gov.scot/binaries/content/documents/govscot/publications/publication/2019/09/protecting-scotlands-future-governments-programme-scotland-2019-20/documents/governments-programme-scotland-2019-20/governments-programme-scotland-2019-20/govscot%3Adocument/governments-programme-scotland-2019-20.pdf p.36

7. Health impacts of air pollution:

Friends of the Earth Scotland estimate that 2500 people die early each year from air pollution in Scotland alone: 


Air pollution, at levels seen on Scottish streets, has been linked with:

– Respiratory illness including asthma and COPD Heart attacks and strokes

– Low birthweight and delayed development in babies whose mothers have been exposed

– Poor lung development in children

– Dementia

Children, the elderly, people with pre-existing health conditions, and sick are disproportionately affected by air pollution. (for more, see the Royal College of Physicians’ 2016 report, “Every Breath we Take: The lifelong impact of air pollution”: 


8. Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) is poisonous gas caused by burning of fossil fuels in car engines. Exposure to NO2 is known to be linked to increased mortality and respiratory problems. Nitrogen dioxide inflames the lining of the lung and reduces immunity to lung infections such as bronchitis.


9. Particulate Matter are tiny, often invisible particles in the air. Particles originating from road traffic include soot from engines, small bits of metal and rubber from engine wear and braking as well as dust from road surfaces. They can penetrate the deepest part of the lungs and damage our health. The World Health Organisation advises that there is no safe level of exposure to Particulate Matter


10. 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))

11. Friends of the Earth Scotland’s Air Pollution campaign, and more information on LEZs: 


12. 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 5,000 local activist groups.