City coughs up for hi-tech sensors to track pollution

The level of traffic on St John's Road makes it a pollution hotspot
The level of traffic on St John's Road makes it a pollution hotspot
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Edinburgh is to become the first local authority area in Scotland to track levels of pollution hourly in a bid to cut down on harmful emissions.

Environment chiefs are to install 20 advanced sensors along the A8 through Corstorphine – the main road to and from Edinburgh from the west – to track the presence of carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide.

After failing a series of environmental tests, Edinburgh City Council managed to control breaches of air purity guidelines with the use of existing sensors by managing traffic flow differently.

The new advanced monitoring units, which the local authority is currently tendering for, are to be installed on a stretch of road close to the current permanent monitoring site at St John’s Road.

They will also monitor temperature, noise and vibration created by traffic and gauge the impact on nearby residential areas and businesses.

Depending on data gathered, transport officials would adjust the traffic management in the area if required, such as speed and light changes, in order to keep traffic flowing smoothly.

David Salton, Chair of Costorphine Community Council, said: “This move is very welcome and underlines the fact that the road is heavily used, congested and very polluted – it is the only pollution hotspot outside the city centre, in fact.

“However, the question is, how will the council see fit to manage traffic if pollution levels do prove to be too high, which is something they haven’t addressed yet as far as I’m aware. If traffic volumes have to be reduced that usually involves diversions, and a lot of local people are already unhappy about people who work in the city centre using residential streets to try to bypass jams and traffic lights.”

All local authorities must ensure nitrogen dioxide levels are below 20 micrograms per cubic metre of air (mcg/m3) by 2015 or face fines from the European Union. In 2011 the annual average level in Edinburgh was 40mcg/m3, while a report to the transport and environment committee last year also found Great Junction Street, Easter Road and the Grassmarket to be among the worst areas for air pollution.

Green party leader Steve Burgess said: “Though more information on pollution levels in certainly welcome, we already know this is a problem area and we already have data on the levels of nitrogen dioxide. What we need is urgent action to tackle the problem here and in the areas of the city centre where we know safety limits are being broken.”

Nitrogen dioxide worsens lung diseases and respiratory problems and has been linked to a higher risk of cardiac arrest in those with existing heart problems. To draw attention to the problems caused by air pollution, the EU has declared 2013 the “Year of Air”.

Environment leader Lesley Hinds said: “Edinburgh has an important role to play in delivering the National Air Quality Strategy. Our monitoring sites enable us to gather accurate data to assess air pollution levels across the city.

“This new kind of technology records data in real time and sends it back to the central server via wifi, whereas the permanent monitoring sites take hourly readings. Edinburgh is the first local authority in Scotland to trial this method of air quality monitoring and we’re looking forward to evaluating the data once it gets under way.”