Scotland meets air pollution limits thanks to clean air zones
It’s been revealed that Scotland did not breach legal air pollution limits in 2022 for the first time, excluding the impact of lockdowns in 2020. Environmental campaigners say the improvement in air quality in Scotland’s cities shows the early benefits of Low Emission Zones. The biggest improvements came in Glasgow, where the LEZ is already up and running.
Friends of the Earth Scotland analysed official air pollution data for 2022, looking at two toxic pollutants which are primarily produced by transport. Legal air quality standards came into force in 2010, yet had previously been broken every single year since except 2020 when the lockdowns resulted in a big drop in car journeys. The provisional data suggests that air quality across Scotland was within legal limits in 2022.
In 2021, Glasgow’s Hope Street broke the legal limit for diesel pollution, and has seen one of the biggest improvements this past year.
Glasgow’s Low Emission Zone began in 2019, annually restricting more and more polluting buses. Now every bus going through the city centre has to meet the minimum emission standard, with private cars to follow in June this year. To support bus operators to meet the criteria, the Scottish Government has provided grants for buying new buses or retrofitting older buses.
Dirtiest streets for Nitrogen Dioxide
The European Ambient Air Quality Directive set a limit for Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) of 40 micrograms per cubic metre (µg/m3). The deadline for this limit to have been met was 2010.
Location / NO2 Nitrogen Dioxide Annual mean (µg/m3)
Glasgow Hope St 39.24
Edinburgh St John’s Road 29.26
Perth Atholl Street 29.15
Dundee Lochee Road 29.10
Glasgow Byres Road 27.53
Edinburgh Queensferry Road 26.86
Aberdeen Union Street 26.50
Dirtiest streets for fine particles (PM10)
The Scottish annual statutory standard for particulate matter (PM10) is 18 micrograms per cubic metre.
Location / PM10 annual mean (µg/m3)
Perth Atholl Street 15.89
Ayr High St 14.93
Edinburgh St John’s Road 14.31
Cupar Bonnygate 14.27
Edinburgh Salamander St 14.26
Edinburgh Queensferry Road 13.92
Dundee Seagate 13.57
Musselburgh N High St 13.44
Aberdeen Union Street 13.02
Aberdeen King Street 12.95
Renfrewshire Johnston High St 12.88
Air pollution kills 2,500 people in Scotland each year and puts the population at risk of serious health conditions, like asthma, heart attacks, and strokes. It’s especially harmful to children, the elderly, and people living in poverty or made vulnerable from other health conditions.
Gavin Thomson, transport campaigner at Friends of the Earth Scotland, said:
“It’s great that progress is being made to improve some of our most polluted streets. People in Glasgow can breathe a little easier as a result of the Low Emission Zone and fewer polluting vehicles in the city centre. The buses along Hope Street these days are often electric, which are better for the climate and for our lungs.
“The Low Emission Zones coming to Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Dundee will bring similar improvements and protections for public health – but for Scotland’s other cities such as Inverness and Perth, toxic air pollution persists with no clear plan for addressing it.
“When it comes to air pollution, we know what works. Councils need to invest in walking, wheeling and cycling, and take control of public transport. Every city with a pollution problem should be looking at Low Emission Zones.”
Joseph Carter, Head of Asthma and Lung UK Scotland said:
“It is good news this year that air pollution on our streets has been kept within its legal limits, yet there is obviously more that can be done. We need the Scottish Government to make tackling air pollution a national priority.
“Air pollution is the biggest environmental threat to public health. At a cost of £1.1bn per year to the NHS, it is draining our resources, straining our health system and cutting short over 2,500 lives a year in Scotland. It is causing new lung conditions like lung cancer, and worsening existing ones. With 1 in 5 Scots developing lung conditions like asthma and COPD in their lifetime, for them, it can trigger life-threatening asthma attacks and exacerbations.”
England’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty recently noted that, ‘everyone is affected by air pollution, and it is everyone’s problem’.
Friends of the Earth Scotland analysed data from the Automatic Monitoring Stations around Scotland.
The full data is available to view here: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/19Swhpp3kGag0ECsYA31s1ixCjHwPFQKmqZVXHhzLOtY/edit#gid=0
Data have been ratified from at least the first six months of 2022, with the second half of the year preliminary verified. More information on the ratification process can be found here: https://www.scottishairquality.scot/data/verification-ratification 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.
The European Ambient Air Quality Directive set a limit for NO2 annual average of 40 micrograms per cubic metre. The deadline for compliance was 1 January 2010.
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
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
Low Emission Zones will be introduced in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee. Glasgow city centre already restricts the most polluting buses, and will restrict the oldest private cars from June 2023. In the other cities, restrictions begin in June 2024.
Professor Chris Whitty’s report on air pollution, December 2022. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/we-can-and-should-go-further-to-reduce-air-pollution-says-chief-medical-officer
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
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”:
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.
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.