TOXIC levels of air pollution claims the lives of more than 200 people a year across Edinburgh, a stark public health report claims.
In the first study of its kind, it has emerged the Capital ranks second only to Glasgow in an air pollution fatality ranking which suggests the Scottish death toll peaks at 2100 cases a year.
Researched by Public Health England and Health Protection Scotland, the report identifies air pollution as the leading environmental health risk in Scotland – with nearly ten times more people dying from exposure to smog than from obesity.
Health chiefs have called for the data to be handled “with caution”, as the figures are based on “modelling” rather than specific analysis of Edinburgh’s atmosphere.
However green campaigners have hailed the damning statistics a “massive wake-up call” to reduce traffic levels across the Capital.
In addition to the shock Edinburgh death toll, the report also claims that, on average, more than 50 deaths annually can be linked to air pollution in West Lothian; in East Lothian the figure is 40 and 34 in Midlothian.
The deterioration in air quality has been blamed on booming traffic levels. The Evening News recently revealed how nitrogen oxide levels in St John’s Road, Edinburgh, soared by 22 per cent in the two years to 2012, with Queensferry Road breaching the limit by nearly 13 per cent in 2013. The news comes one week after Sahara dust and low south-easterly winds caused air quality readings to plummet across the UK.
Emilia Hanna, below right, Air Pollution Campaigner for Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: “For the first time ever, we have figures on how air pollution is taking its toll on people in each local council area in Scotland. These figures confirm that ten times the number of people are killed off by air pollution as die in road traffic accidents, and air pollution is Scotland’s biggest environmental health threat.
“Stopping air pollution needs to jump to the top of the government’s health and transport priorities.”
She said Scotland has failed to meet its air quality targets “for years” and called for cleaner streets with less congestion, adding: “Traffic fumes in our urban areas are the main source of air pollution. The elderly and those with pre-existing heart and lung problems are most at risk.”
Cllr Nigel Bagshaw environment spokesman for Edinburgh Greens said the huge number of air pollution fatalities in Edinburgh was “staggering”.
He said: “We need to use these figures as a massive wake-up call to reduce the overall volumes of vehicles on our streets – reducing pollution, tackling road safety and improving the quality of our neighbourhoods.
“The hotspots – in the city centre, Corstorphine and Inverleith – have been known about for years and yet the city has continued to allow new developments which add more traffic to the streets.”
In recent years city chiefs have taken great strides to improve the air quality in the Capital by introducing hybrid buses, cutting to 20 mph residential speed limits and devoting seven per cent of the overall transport budget to cycling projects,
They have also set an ambitious target of reducing overall car journeys in the city to 31 per cent by 2020 – from its current figure of 43 per cent.
Next month’s arrival of the trams – which emit zero on-street carbon emissions – will also help to meet those steep targets.
Transport and environment convenor Councillor Lesley Hinds accepted the air pollution figures showed there was “still much to be done” and has targeted to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 42 per cent in the next six years.
She said: “We are also prioritising pedestrians and cyclists and have pledged a significant proportion of our transport budget to active travel. As a compact city Edinburgh is ideally suited to walking and cycling, and we are continuously making improvements to our cycle routes and walkways to encourage more people to leave the car at home, which will have a further positive impact on air quality, as will our work with the haulage industry through the ECOSTARS Edinburgh scheme.
“In addition, through a new travel planning service we’ll be liaising with Edinburgh employers to encourage them to follow the council’s lead in reducing the need for employees to travel, for example by encouraging home-or-remote-working for staff.”
Colin Ramsay, a consultant at Health Protection Scotland said that while pollutants can reduce life expectancy they are not the sole cause of death for the 200 deaths in Edinburgh.
“But [pollution is] likely to be a contributory factor in reducing the life expectancy of a larger number of people to a lesser extent,” he said.
The Scottish Government is in the process of developing a Low Emission Strategy for Scotland. A government spokesman said: “It will set out the contribution that good air quality can make to sustainable economic growth and quality of life in our towns and cities.”
‘You can smell it more when the traffic’s stationary’
ASTHMA sufferer Anne Hay, 61, believes city centre air pollution is worsening her health.
The grandmother-of-two, who lives in Ravelston, blames emissions from diesel engines for her contracting pneumonia five years ago and said both her children also now suffer from asthma.
She said she actively avoids certain Edinburgh traffic blackspots, knowing their choking fumes will trigger an attack if she ventures anywhere near them.
“Air pollution affects my asthma badly,” she said. “Once, after attending a day-long event in the city centre, I sat up half the night unable to breathe properly. Since then, I’ve taken steps to avoid the worst areas and have been able to reduce my drug use by 50 per cent.
“What affects asthmatics immediately and visibly will affect others less obviously and in the long-term.”
Mrs Hay has signed up to text alerts from Air Quality Scotland which issues warnings when emissions are particularly high in Edinburgh.
To counteract the worst effects, Mrs Hay completely avoids the city centre if pollution rates are high and believes South Clerk Street is among the worst for emissions.
“Because traffic is often idling there and it’s a bus route, vehicles are often stationary or travelling slowly,” she said.
“I’ve found that you can smell it more when it’s stationary. Engines are not going at a decent speed so they are actually polluting more.”
‘People must use public transport’
THREE Edinburgh streets are among a list of Scots roads where pollution levels are so high they are a danger to health.
St John’s Road, Queensferry Road and Salamander Street were included in a national table of 26 thoroughfares in breach of safety limits. We took to St John’s Road to ask residents what should be done about soaring levels of pollution.
Trevor Swistchew, top, 63, said: “The high levels of pollution are because of three things: the airport, the volume of cars and vehicles.”
Alexander Proctor, 45, believes “it’s all about telling people to walk and use public transport”.
Ann Douglas, middle, 71, said: “It is bad at certain times, like rush hour and first thing in the morning.”
John McIntosh, bottom, 60, added: “Maybe the trams will make some difference, but I doubt it.”
Asthma in cats on the increase
THE freak atmospheric conditions wrought by Saharan dust and European smog poses a hazard to humans . . . and their pets.Vets are seeing increasing numbers of asthmatic cats brought in to their surgeries.
And the animal doctors have been quick to make a connection between the wheezy condition and rising air pollution problems.
Both Edinburgh and Glasgow have been cited as cat asthma attack hotspots.
Brian Faulkner, a vet with Petplan, said: “It is believed by many veterinary professionals that feline asthma is becoming more prevalent due to increased pollution and a rise of indoor-only cats.”