‘Drastic measures’ needed to combat air pollution

Readings taken in Musselburgh High Street showed a rise in pollution in recent months. Picture: Toby Williams
Readings taken in Musselburgh High Street showed a rise in pollution in recent months. Picture: Toby Williams
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Council chiefs have warned “drastic measures” could be needed to drive down air pollution in Musselburgh – including banning motorists from the town centre.

East Lothian Council was forced to declare Musselburgh High Street the county’s first Air Quality Management Area in 2013 after a spike in toxic fumes.

Two years after I first exposed this shocking problem, the people still have no action

Jason Rose

Now Green campaigners have accused council officials of showing “utter contempt” for residents by failing to combat the issue.

Officials said steps had been taken and warned long-term options could include restricting the number of vehicles passing through the town at peak times. Activists are pushing for the introduction of 
low-emission buses after environmental readings showed a rise in pollutants in recent months.

An estimated 20,000 vehicles a day pass through the High Street, including 500 buses.

East Lothian Green campaigner Jason Rose, who first uncovered the extent of pollution in the area two years ago using Freedom of Information legislation, said FoI requests had revealed a lack of written communication between the council and bus companies on the issue since 2013.

He wrote to East Lothian Council’s environment spokesman, Councillor Norman Hampshire, in May asking for an update on the council’s plan of action but received no reply. A similar query also went unanswered when put to council leader Willie Innes earlier this month.

Mr Rose said: “Two whole years after I first exposed this shocking problem, the people of Musselburgh still have no action from East Lothian Council, and all the while we’re left with air that is unfit to breathe.”

Cllr Hampshire insisted regular meetings had been held with bus companies, with the council identifying the reduction in bus fumes as its best option to improve air quality.

He said drastic measures may have to be considered in the long term, including restricting the number of vehicles passing through the town.

He added: “There are already local authorities that only allow public transport in town centres at peak times.”

Monitoring equipment on North High Street recorded Particulate Matter (PM10) – often dangerous particles suspended in the air – at over 50 micrograms per cubic metre for a 21-hour period on July 1.

European law to protect human health says this pollutant must not rise above 50 micrograms in a 24-hour period more than seven times a year. In mid-February, the level of PM10 briefly spiked to 109 micrograms per cubic metre.

An East Lothian Council spokeswoman said: “Since declaring an Air Quality Management Order in Musselburgh in November 2013 further detailed monitoring has been carried out to identify the levels and types of pollutants and consultation has taken place with, amongst others, the Scottish Government, neighbouring councils and bus companies.

“An action plan is currently being prepared which will detail measures to be considered to tackle this problem.”