Sixty years on from Clean Air Act, air pollution still kills thousands
Campaigners today warned that 60 years after the introduction of the Clean Air Act air pollution continues to kill thousands of people in Scotland.
In a decisive and successful response to the Great Smog of 1952 that killed 12,000 people, the Clean Air Act of 1956 introduced controls on industrial pollution and the burning of coal. However, since the 1950s traffic levels have sky-rocketed and air pollution now claims over 2,500 lives in Scotland annually.
Friends of the Earth Scotland’s Air Pollution Campaigner, Emilia Hanna, said:
“On the 60th anniversary of the Clean Air Act, we urge the Scottish Parliament to draw inspiration from that law and to take decisive action against modern air pollution, responsible for over 2,500 premature deaths every year in Scotland.
“Air pollution has changed since the 1950s, but it remains devastating to public health. Back then, pea soupers were caused by coal smoke from heavy industry, but today’s air pollution is an invisible killer, largely coming from the massive volume of traffic which chokes our roads and cities.
“Scotland’s toxic air continues to break national and European safety standards with 32 designated Pollution Zones across the country where levels are deemed to be unsafe. Since Scotland missed its 2010 EU clean air deadline, over 15,000 people have died early from air pollution. The Scottish Government has failed to take this problem seriously enough.
“The Scottish Government has a new plan for clean air with its ‘Cleaner Air for Scotland’ Strategy, but much more action is needed. Cleaner Air for Scotland sets the groundwork for Low Emission Zones to be introduced in key Scottish cities, but the Government needs to commit serious funding to councils if it is to become a reality. It must also commit to reducing the amount of traffic on our roads, and tell us once and for all when it is aiming for Scottish air quality safety standards to be met across the country.
“The pea-souper smogs of the 50s were very visible, but today’s air pollution is formed by gases and particles that are so tiny you cannot see them. Sixty years ago, respiratory illness was the main health impact of air pollution. Today, air pollution particles from traffic fumes are much smaller and can cross from the lungs into the bloodstream, and are linked to strokes, heart attacks, endocrine damage and even dementia and diabetes.”
Anne Hay, an Edinburgh resident who suffers from respiratory illness connected with air pollution, said:
“Air pollution is still a real and deadly problem, worse because it's invisible. Much more needs to be done to protect children's growing lungs and brains.
“I am affected by asthma even on days when air pollution is low. Asthmatics are like the canaries down the coal mine, sounding an early warning.”
Notes to editors:
1. The Clean Air Act was an act of the Westminster Parliament passed on 5 July 1956 in response to the Great Smogs of 1952 which killed between 4,000 and 12,000 people. It is credited as a key milestone in the development of a legal framework to protect the environment. For more information about the history and legacy of the Clean Air Act: https://www.foe.co.uk/blog/air-pollution-impact-1956-clean-air-act
2. Friends of the Earth Scotland estimates that over 2,500 people die early from air pollution every year. This calculation has been derived from a February 2016 report by the Royal College of Physicians, “Every Breath we take: The lifelong impact of air pollution” which estimates that 40,000 people across the UK die early from air pollution each year. For the RCP report: https://www.rcplondon.ac.uk/projects/outputs/every-breath-we-take-lifelong-impact-air-pollution. For more details on Friends of the Earth Scotland’s estimate: http://www.foe-scotland.org.uk/RCP-Report
3. Air quality is regulated in two ways in Scotland: by Scottish Statutory Standards, and by European Law. The Scottish Government has committed to meeting European Union legal limits on air quality by 2020, but has yet to commit to meeting its own, more stringent standards. For a map of areas in Scotland which are breaking Scottish Statutory standards on air quality visit http://www.scottishairquality.co.uk/laqm/aqma. The Air Quality (Scotland) Regulations 2000 and the Air Quality (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 2002 required safety standards for coarse particles (PM10) to have been met by 2010, and standards for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) to have been met by 2005. The standards are based on World Health Organisation safety guidelines.
4. The Scottish Government’s air quality strategy, “Cleaner Air for Scotland”, can be viewed at http://www.gov.scot/Publications/2015/11/5671. Whilst it commits to meeting European air quality legislation, and sets out a framework for Low Emission Zones, it has no central plan to reduce traffic levels or to meet Scottish Statutory standards.
5. Free to use, print quality photos of previous air pollution protests are available at https://www.flickr.com/photos/friendsoftheearthscotland/albums/72157657667112136
5. 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.