Friends of the Earth Scotland has ranked the country’s most polluted streets for 2018, and the results show there has been very little progress in reducing air pollution.

Official air pollution data for last year was analysed by the environmental group, looking at two toxic pollutants which are primarily produced by transport. Legal air safety standards are being breached at 7 monitoring stations across Scotland. Air pollution damages public health and has been linked to cancer, heart attacks, strokes, and restricted development in unborn babies and children.

Dirtiest streets for Nitrogen Dioxide

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

Location / NO2 Annual mean (µg/m3)
Glasgow Kerbside  / 60.48
Edinburgh Queensferry Road / 50.54
Edinburgh Nicolson Street / 49.22
Edinburgh St John’s Road / 46.32
Dundee Seagate / 43.42
Dundee Lochee Road / 42.05

Dirtiest streets for Particulate Matter

The Scottish annual statutory standard for particulate matter (PM10) is 18 micrograms per cubic metre, so two of these sites are breaking the standard. The deadline for this standard to have been met was 31st December 2010.

Location / PM10 Annual mean (µg/m3)
Edinburgh Queensferry Road / 24.15
Edinburgh Salamander St / 20.83
Aberdeen Market Street 2 / 17.08
Aberdeen Wellington Road / 17.02

Scotland has been breaking legal limits on air pollution since 2010. A Low Emission Zone was launched in Glasgow on 31st December 2018, and three more will be in place in Dundee, Aberdeen, and Edinburgh by 2020.

Gavin Thomson, Air Pollution Campaigner for Friends of the Earth Scotland said:
“These shocking figures show that the air pollution health crisis isn’t going away; in many areas it’s getting worse. With streets in Scotland’s cities still at illegal levels of air pollution, the Scottish Government’s ‘Cleaner Air for Scotland’ strategy has clearly failed to deliver. The current review of this strategy needs to result in a transformation in transport if we are to clean up Scotland’s air so that it is safe for people.

“Aberdeen, Dundee, and Edinburgh must have Low Emission Zones in place by 2020 and this data shows the scale of the problem that these zones must tackle. Glasgow’s Low Emission Zone, which only impacts a small number of buses initially, is hugely disappointing and will be make no difference in its first year.

“Air pollution is responsible for over 2500 early deaths every year in Scotland. It has been linked with heart attacks, strokes, and cancers, and vulnerable groups such as the young, the elderly and those already suffering ill health are at particular risk. The health evidence on the impact of air pollution is overwhelming. We need to act now.

“Dundee, Aberdeen, and Edinburgh have a great chance to improve their city, clean the air, and protect the health of their citizens. This data shows how much we need to see bold, ambitious plans for improving air quality coming from our city councils. We have seen some promising ideas tabled by Edinburgh Council, while Glasgow’s ‘Avenues project’ is already underway.

“If we have the right ambition, we can make our cities healthier, happier, more prosperous places where want to spend time rather than race through. By giving more people the freedom to walk and cycle safely, as well the option of good quality public transport we can end the stranglehold of cars on our towns and cities.”

Notes to Editors

1. Friends of the Earth Scotland analysed data from the Automatic Monitoring Stations around Scotland and results were published after discussion with air quality specialist consultants at AEA Ricardo, who manage the sites. Data have been ratified from January 2018 – September 2018. Data with 80% 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.

2. The European Ambient Air Quality Directive set a limit for NO2 of 40 microgrammes 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

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 https://flic.kr/s/aHskrG52pg

4. Glasgow’s Low Emission Zone has been heavily criticised as lacking in ambition and because it will only mean a small amount of buses are upgraded. https://foe.scot/press-release/responding-to-the-launch-of-glasgows-low-emission-zone/

5. Health impacts of air pollution:
Friends of the Earth Scotland estimate that 2500 people die early each year from air pollution in Scotland alone: http://www.foe-scotland.org.uk/RCP-Report
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.  Royal College of Physicians’ 2016 report, “Every Breath we Take: The lifelong impact of air pollution”: https://www.rcplondon.ac.uk/projects/outputs/every-breath-we-take-lifelong-impact-air-pollution

6. 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. https://www.londonair.org.uk/LondonAir/guide/WhatIsNO2.aspx

7. 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

8. Low Emission Zones are areas where the most polluting vehicles must stay out or pay a fine. They have been shown to reduce pollution in many European cities. London has had a LEZ since 2008 and plans to extend it.

9. 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))

10. Friends of the Earth Scotland’s Air Pollution campaign, and more information on LEZs: https://foe.scot/campaign/air-pollution/

11. 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.