Air Pollution has been linked to 2094 deaths every year in regions across Scotland, with a total of nearly 22,500 life-years lost, new statistics for every council area in Scotland reveal in a report from Public Health England. (1)

Glasgow sees the most deaths from air pollution, with 306 people killed off every year, with Edinburgh, Dundee, and Aberdeen also losing 360 people collectively who die early due to poor air quality.

These figures confirm that air pollution is the leading environmental health risk in Scotland, with nearly ten times more people dying from exposure to air pollution than from obesity. (2)

The number of annual deaths which are attributable to air pollution by local authority, based on pollution levels in 2010, are as follows:

Aberdeen City Council, 86
Aberdeenshire Council, 70
Angus Council, 42
Argyll & Bute Council, 29
Clackmannanshire Council, 18
Dumfries & Galloway Council, 60
Dundee City Council, 69
East Ayrshire Council, 45
East Dunbartonshire Council, 37
East Lothian Council, 40
East Renfrewshire Council, 33
Edinburgh City Council, 205
Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles Council), 8
Falkirk Council, 65
Fife Council, 146
Glasgow City Council, 306
Highland Council, 57
Inverclyde Council, 32
Midlothian Council, 34
Moray Council, 25
North Ayrshire Council, 50
North Lanarkshire Council, 142
Orkney Islands Council, 6
Perth & Kinross Council, 52
Renfrewshire Council, 77
Scottish Borders Council, 44
Shetland Islands Council, 6
South Ayrshire Council, 47
South Lanarkshire Council, 134
Stirling Council, 29
West Dunbartonshire Council, 39
West Lothian Council, 59
Total deaths in Scotland from air pollution, 2094

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

“For the first time ever, we have figures on how air pollution is taking its toll on people in each local council area in Scotland. These figures confirm that ten times the number of people are killed off by air pollution as die in road traffic accidents, and air pollution is Scotland’s biggest environmental health threat. Stopping air pollution needs to jump to the top of the government’s health and transport priorities.

“Scotland has air quality standards in place which are designed to keep us safe, but we have been failing to meet these targets for years. We need to see cleaner streets with less traffic congestion, more people walking and cycling to work and improved public transport. If we lived in cleaner cities where the air was safe to breathe these would be more pleasant places for us to spend time in, and we would live longer, healthier lives.

“Traffic fumes in our urban areas are the main source of air pollution. The elderly and those with pre-existing heart and lung problems are most at risk.”

Earlier this year, campaign group Friends of the Earth Scotland revealed that legal limits on air pollution are being broken on numerous streets in Scotland’s urban centres. (3)

The findings of Public Health England confirm earlier findings by the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollution; removing man-made air pollution would increase everyone’s life expectancy across the UK by 6 months. (4)

Public Health England’s findings are in relation to one key pollutant called fine particles or ‘PM2.5s’. These particles can travel deep into the lungs, cross into the bloodstream and cause heart and lung diseases, cancers, aggravate asthma and increase chances of premature death. Globally, air pollution is responsible for 7 million deaths each year. (5)

Glasgow resident, Mic Starbuck (aged 64), suffers from asthma. 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.

“My life is at risk from air pollution,” said Mic. “Breathing in even small amounts of polluted air can trigger an attack at any time, so I am forced to carry and use an inhaler wherever I go, and a nebuliser on longer journeys away from home.”

“Because of my recently developed hypersensitivity to air pollution, I have to take precautions which impact on my human rights as a citizen. I have to avoid travelling into centre of Glasgow during rush hour. I can no longer travel to the Parliament in Edinburgh to attend meetings because of air pollution, particularly at the railway stations. I have to avoid local pollution hotspots, busy junctions, taxi ranks, fast food outlets and fumes from wood burning stoves and central heating systems.”

“I would want to see more effective, widespread monitoring and alert systems, preferably wearable to warn me and fellow sufferers of all levels of gases and particles. I would wish to see compliance with these EU levels being enforced. I would wish to see buses and taxis replaced with hybrid and lower emission engines and, as soon as is practicable, become fully electric. Cars and lorries also need to be modified and traffic reduced and kept flowing, with the use of low emission zones. I would wish to see a full and comprehensive plan developed for the Scottish local authorities and the country as a whole to reduce cumulative levels of exposure to below the permitted maxima except under the most extreme climatic circumstances.”

Currently, PM2.5 is only monitored at five locations across Scotland. In March this year, the Government announced plans to introduce more monitoring of this key pollutant and a new legal Standard for PM2.5s.

Earlier this year, Friends of the Earth Scotland published results of Scotland’s most polluted streets for 2013 and revealed that streets in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and other parts of Scotland are in breach of Scottish air quality standards. Earlier this year, the European Commission launched legal proceedings against the United Kingdom for its failure to cut excessive levels of Nitrogen Dioxide at several locations across the United Kingdom including Glasgow. (6)


Air Pollution Mortality map


Notes to Editors
1. Public Health England’s research is available at http://www.hpa.org.uk/webc/HPAwebFile/HPAweb_C/1317141074607. The Scottish figures are in Table 3.

2. Obesity was a contributing cause of death for 212 people in 2011 (Scottish Health Survey)

3. Friends of the Earth Scotland published its analysis of official government air pollution figures in January 2014. Its findings are available at http://www.foe-scotland.org.uk/node/1744

4.The Committee on the Medical Aspect of Air Pollution concluded that very fine particles (PM2.5s) had an effect on mortality equivalent to 29,000 deaths in the UK in 2008 (1560 in Scotland) and on average shortened everyone’s life by 6 months. http://www.hpa.org.uk/webc/HPAwebFile/HPAweb_C/1317137012567

5. Research published on 21 January revealed that exposure to fine particles in the air led to a higher chance of heart attacks and cases of unstable angina. The research followed over 100,000 people for nearly 12 years. 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 World Health Organisation announced that globally 7 million people die prematurely each year due to exposure to air pollution: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2014/air-pollution/en/

6. See the European Commission press release on legal action against the UK at http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-14-154_en.htm

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