Edinburgh streets still among most polluted despite Scotland meeting air quality targets for first time
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Friends of the Earth said it was the first time Scotland did not breach legal air pollution limits, apart from 2020 when Covid lockdowns meant there was far less traffic on the roads. In its annual analysis of pollution levels, FoE Scotland claimed the improvement in air quality showed “the early benefits of Low Emission Zones”, with the biggest improvements in Glasgow, where the LEZ is already up and running.
Glasgow’s Hope Street emerged as Scotland’s most polluted street, measured by nitrogen dioxide (NO2) with 39.24 micrograms per cubic metre. Edinburgh’s St John’s Road in Corstorphine was the second most polluted street in Scotland with 29.26 – up from 28.72 in 2021; and Edinburgh’s Queensferry Road was sixth at 28.86 – down from 29.62 in 2021.
A separate analysis of pollution by fine particles (particulate matter) put Atholl Street in Perth as the most polluted with 15.89 micrograms per cubic metre. Edinburgh’s St John’s Road was third with 14.31 – up from 11.00 in 2021; Salamander Street in Leith came in at number five with 14.26 – down from 15.43 in 2021; and Queensferry Road was sixth at 13.92 – up from 11.97 in 2021. Musselburgh’s North High Street also featured, at number eight with a measure of 13.44 – up from 10.02 in 2021.
Legal air quality standards came into force in 2010 and Scotland breached them every year since then, except 2020, when there was a big drop in car journeys due to the pandemic lockdowns. Glasgow’s Low Emission Zone began in 2019, restricting more and more polluting buses. Now every bus going through the city centre has to meet the minimum emission standard, with the restriction extended to private cars in June this year. Edinburgh’s LEZ will be enforced from June 2024.
Friends of the Earth says air pollution kills 2,500 people in Scotland each year and puts the population at risk of serious health conditions, like asthma, heart attacks, and strokes. The charity says poor air quality is especially harmful to children, the elderly, and people living in poverty or made vulnerable from other health conditions.
FoE Scotland transport campaigner Gavin Thomson said: “It’s great that progress is being made to improve some of our most polluted streets. People in Glasgow can breathe a little easier as a result of the Low Emission Zone and fewer polluting vehicles in the city centre. The buses along Hope Street these days are often electric, which are better for the climate and for our lungs. The LEZs coming to Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Dundee will bring similar improvements and protections for public health, but for Scotland’s other cities such as Inverness and Perth, toxic air pollution persists with no clear plan for addressing it. When it comes to air pollution, we know what works. Councils need to invest in walking, wheeling and cycling, and take control of public transport. Every city with a pollution problem should be looking at Low Emission Zones.”