Only weeks into the new year and Scotland is in the midst of its second pollution episode of 2017, warns Friends of the Earth Scotland. 

Today (Wed 15 February) levels of toxic Particulate Matter are breaking World Health Organisation and Scottish regulatory safety standards across much of the Central Belt and the North East of Scotland.

Unsafe levels of Particulate Matter are currently being recorded on official monitors in: Aberdeen, Angus, Dundee, East Ayrshire, East Dunbartonshire, Edinburgh, Falkirk, Fife, Glasgow, North Ayrshire, Renfrewshire, Perth, South Lanarkshire, Stirling, West Dunbartonshire, and West Lothian. The levels are especially high in Edinburgh and Falkirk.

Emilia Hanna, Air Pollution Campaigner for Friends of the Earth Scotland said,

“This is the second high pollution episode in the space of a month in Scotland, because it was not predicted by the Government’s official forecasting service, it has taken the country by surprise.

“Toxic Particulate Matter has climbed to unsafe levels due to pollution blowing in from the south east combining with the fumes pouring out of car and lorry exhausts on the streets here in Scotland. The current hazy and still weather conditions have stopped the pollution from dispersing. Fortunately, as the winds are set to pick up again from the south west tomorrow, the pollution episode should start to clear.

“The air pollution episode is creating dangerous conditions, especially for vulnerable people with lung or heart problems.”

The health advice that accompanies the levels of pollution being experienced in Aberdeen, Angus, Dundee, East Ayrshire, East Dunbartonshire, Fife, Glasgow, North Ayrshire, Renfrewshire, Perth, South Lanarkshire, Stirling, West Dunbartonshire, and West Lothian is as follows, said Hanna:

“The official health advice that accompanies the levels currently being experienced in these Councils is that adults and children with lung problems, and adults with heart problems, who experience symptoms, should consider reducing strenuous physical activity, particularly outdoors.

The health advice that accompanies the higher levels of pollution being experienced in Edinburgh and Falkirk is as follows, said Hanna:

“The official health advice that accompanies the levels currently being experienced in Edinburgh and Falkirk is that people with lung and heart problems, and older people, should avoid strenuous physical activity. People who are otherwise healthy and don’t usually notice pollution are also advised to reduce physical exertion, particularly outdoors, especially if they experience symptoms such as coughs or a sore throat.

“The levels being recorded by monitors today are in breach of World Health Organisation and Scottish safety standards, which were due to have been achieved over a decade ago.”

Traffic-derived air pollution, mainly composed of fine particles and toxic gases, causes thousands of early deaths in Scotland each year and is second only to smoking in terms of its mortality impacts. It has been linked with cancer, allergies, asthma, strokes, heart attacks, restricted foetal development, damaged lung development in children, and more recently, the onset of dementia in adults.

Hanna continued,

“These toxic levels of pollution are damaging our health in a shocking variety of ways and the Scottish Government was legally obliged to ensure clean air by 2010. Traffic is a key culprit of today’s pollution, so the Government needs to get serious about making it easier for us to walk, cycle, and use public transport.

“We welcome news that the European Commission has today issued a final warning against the UK Government for their failure tackle our air pollution crisis. The Scottish Government is ultimately responsible for making our air safe to breathe in Scotland. Ministers have promised a Low Emission Zone by 2018, and local politicians are beginning to show willing for a zone, but the Government needs to make a public commitment that it will provide funding for these zones.


This Screenshot shows the levels of Air Pollution in Scotland at 14.15, Wednesday 15 February. Yellow and orange indicate a level of Particulate Matter in breach of the Scottish safety standard, with vulnerable people (i.e. with heart or lung conditions) are particularly at risk to its effects. 

Notes to Editors


[1] The air pollution readings were taken from the Scottish Government’s official air quality monitoring website at 14:15 pm on Wed 15 February 2017: http://www.scottishairquality.co.uk/latest/  This press release has been produced on discussion with air pollution forecasters at Ricardo AEA. The two main pollutants of concern are PM10 and PM2.5.

[2] For official government health advice about air pollution levels: http://www.scottishairquality.co.uk/air-quality/daqi

[3] The key pollutants causing this episode are expected to be small particles (PM10) and fine particles (PM2.5). Often in the form of soot from diesel and petrol engines, you can see Particulate Matter (PM) as a dark, dirty coating on surfaces in towns. Any concentration has a negative effect on health.

[4] Friends of the Earth Scotland covered Scotland’s first air pollution episode of 2017 on 27th January: http://www.foe-scotland.org.uk/pollution-episode-Jan17

[5] Friends of the Earth Scotland’s revealed Scotland’s most polluted streets on 15th January 2017. They also disclosed that there are now 38 pollution zones across the country. http://www.foe-scotland.org.uk/most-polluted-streets

[6] 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
– 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”: https://www.rcplondon.ac.uk/projects/outputs/every-breath-we-take-lifelong-impact-air-pollution)

[7] 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.