We have published our annual list of Scotland’s most polluted streets in 2019, showing which areas are failing to meet legal standards for clean air. This research shows:

  • Some areas actually had worse pollution than previous years
  • Streets are still breaking legal air quality limits endangering our health
  • Our car-centric transport system is choking us and the planet

What is Scotland’s worst street for air pollution?

Glasgow’s Hope Street has been top of this list of shame for many years, and 2019 was no different. It has the highest levels of nitrogen dioxide – a pollutant from diesel vehicles, especially older vehicles – to be found anywhere in Scotland.

Glasgow’s Low Emission Zone which is incrementally, year-by-year, cleaning the bus fleet that travels through the city centre, has clearly not yet had much of an impact.

The data suggests other streets are breaking the legal limit for nitrogen dioxide in Dundee, Edinburgh and Inverness.

Inverness Academy Street is one of the many areas in Scotland that appears to have suffered air pollution increases in 2019, along with streets in Falkirk, Bearsden, Perth, Motherwell. This could be due to local circumstances in each of these areas – roadworks or a large building site. But it could also be a consequence of increasing traffic numbers.

Air pollution and climate change

From the transport stats, we know we have an ever-increasing number of fossil fuelled cars in Scotland. (P.12 of this doc if you want a sense of how addicted to cars we are ) On transport, we’re going in the wrong direction.

The UN climate negotiations coming to Glasgow in 2020 should act as a wake-up call to Scotland. Our transport system is unsustainable and is harming our lungs, as well as worsening the climate emergency.

Transport is the largest source of climate emissions in Scotland, with levels remaining pretty much the same for the last 30 years. The Scottish Government’s forthcoming climate change plan must have a transport transformation at its heart.

Is this pollution bad for my health?

Edinburgh’s Salamander Road is the worst for Particulate Matter pollution. These are tiny particles that we breathe in and they can be devastating for our lungs and hearts. 

From a health perspective, we are always concerned about prolonged exposure, so for each of these polluted streets, it’s useful to think about who spends a lot of time in those areas. Are there houses or workplaces where people will be breathing in these toxic fumes every day? 

Data also shows that Dundee’s Seagate and Lochee Road are again failing to meet standards due to have been met in 2010. Dundee, Edinburgh and Aberdeen are due to have a Low Emission Zone in place by the end of 2020.

These Zones will eventually restrict the most polluting vehicles from the city centre. Although, in the current plans for Dundee, Lochee Road is not included in the Zone, so we shouldn’t hold our breath for improvements there.

My street isn’t listed, is the air there safe to breathe?

Even if your street or town isn’t on this list of pollution hotspots, unfortunately you can’t breathe easy. Experts say there is no safe level of exposure to air pollution. This data tells us we need to be thinking beyond just the big cities. 

Anywhere we have high traffic levels, we are likely to have high pollution levels. Every town and city should be working on a range of measures to positively transform their transport system: 

  • Low Emission Zones
  • Workplace parking levy to fund public transport improvements, 
  • Safe, segregated cycle network, 
  • Car free areas where pedestrians are prioritised

Our air pollution problem is a transport problem. Our towns and cities are car-centric, our public transport is mainly expensive and insufficient, and we have been far too slow to change course. Cleaner public transport and safe, comfortable routes for walking and cycling – these are essential for changing our transport mix and reducing harmful fumes on our streets.

What can I do?

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Check out our Air Pollution toolkit to help you campaign in your community. View Toolkit

You can donate to support our work to tackle air pollution

Have a look at the data yourself: http://www.scottishairquality.scot/data/data-selector

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Gavin Thomson

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