Traffic congestion

Revealed: the ten most polluted streets in Scotland

Toxic exhaust fumes are polluting ten city streets across Scotland in breach of legal safety limits that should have been met eight years ago, according to a new analysis by environmentalists.

Nitrogen dioxide and tiny sooty particles from cars, lorries and buses along busy roads in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee and Perth are increasing the risks of cancer, heart attacks and strokes, experts say.

Air pollution is blamed for over 2,500 early deaths every year in Scotland and is estimate to cost the Scottish economy over £1.1 billion annually. But local authorities and the Scottish Government say they have plans to tackle the problem.

The government’s pollution monitoring data for 2017 has been analysed by Friends of the Earth Scotland. The worst polluted road was Hope Street in Glasgow, where average levels of nitrogen dioxide in the air were 45 per cent higher that the legal limit of 40 micrograms per cubic metre.

Dumbarton Road and Clarence Drive in Glasgow were also badly polluted, along with four streets in Edinburgh: St John’s Road, Queensferry Road, Salamander Street and Glasgow Road. Two roads in Dundee and one in Perth also breached the pollution limits (see table below).

The limit for nitrogen dioxide was set by the European Union and should have been met at the start of 2010. The limit for tiny particles known as PM10s is a Scottish statutory standard that should have been met by the end of 2010.

“Filthy streets continue to poison our lungs nearly a decade after a legal deadline,” said Friends of the Earth Scotland’s campaigner, Emilia Hanna.

“Air pollution from traffic fumes has a devastating impact on health, especially on children and people with existing health problems. It is unacceptable to have continued levels of pollution on our streets that are harming our children’s prospects in life.”

The Scottish Government has promised to launch a low emission zone to curb pollution in Glasgow this year, followed by three more in Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen by 2020.

Named: the 17 streets in Glasgow where it’s dangerous to breathe

Hanna urged Glasgow City Council to ensure that its zone restricts the most polluting buses, vans and lorries by the end of this year, and cars and taxis by 2020. “The rest of Scotland is looking to Glasgow to set a high standard,” she said.

“Low emission zones will make a real difference and will improve the health of children growing up in polluted areas. They must be ambitious in their design, apply to the right vehicles and be supported by measures to make public transport, walking and cycling the smarter choice for everyone.”

Fintan Hurley, an air pollution expert who advises the UK government, pointed out that even the tiniest amount of particulate pollution carried risks. “Air pollution is a big public health problem, because it affects everyone and you can’t avoid it,” he said.

“The standards are important in controlling air pollution, but they can never make it safe. There is no safe level of exposure to particulate matter, so it’s important to keep levels as low as possible.”

Glasgow City Council accepted that air pollution was a significant public health concern. Creating the first low emission zone will “drastically improve air quality”, stressed sustainability convener, councillor Anna Richardson.

“We don’t dispute Glasgow’s air quality needs to significantly improve – and quickly – and we are addressing this.”

City of Edinburgh Council argued that it was working hard to tackle air pollution. “We’re focusing on projects to reduce congestion, improve the efficiency of our fleet of vehicles and invest in improved public transport, cycling infrastructure and active travel,” said transport convener, councillor Lesley Macinnes.

“We recognise the threat poor air quality poses to the public and our dedicated team of officers have been working closely with the Scottish Government to investigate steps to address this.”

The Scottish Government promised that low emission zones would be well designed, and would take account of the views of stakeholders. “We will continue to work with industry to phase out the need for new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2032,” said a spokeswoman.

“We have invested more than £210 million in active travel since the start of the 2011 spending review, and the most recent programme for government announced that we would double the active travel budget from £40 million to £80 million in 2018-19.”

Scotland’s most polluted streets 2017

StreetCityN02 2017N02 2016Pm10 2017Pm10 2016
Hope StreetGlasgow5865No DataNo Data
St John's RoadEdinburgh504912No data
Dumbarton RoadGlasgow43421918
Lochee RoadDundee42451819
Queensferry RoadEdinburgh41422320
Salamander StreetEdinburgh24262320
Atholl StreetPerth38402121
Clarence DriveGlasgowNo DataNo data19No data
Glasgow RoadEdinburgh25211918

In the table above values for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) are given in micrograms per cubic metre and particles (PM10) are given in PM10 micrograms per cubic metre.

The safety limit for nitrogen dioxide is 40 micrograms per cubic metre, and for particles 18 micrograms per cubic metre. Both limits were meant to have been met in 2010.

Source: Friends of the Earth Scotland and

The impact

Hairdresser Magdalena Jednorowicz, 37, lives in Edinburgh and has a six-year-old son, Ossian. When Ossian was two and a half he caught a viral infection that resulted in post-viral lung disease.

“Ossian has a lower lung capacity and permanent wheeze, I have to be very careful about where we go. I have noticed that on polluted days he struggles much more and gets easily out of breath,” he said.

“I avoid crossing junctions where lines of cars stop at lights because those areas are much more noticeably polluted. Fumes seem to be stronger on the levels of small people’s height.

“Try waiting at a bus stop – it is like passive smoking. It is unfair that pedestrian children have to be exposed to the toxins while out and about in our beautiful city.”

Catherine Macnaughton, 41, lives in Glasgow and is a marathon runner. In recent years she has noticed that air pollution impacts her breathing.

“I used to go running in Glasgow city centre and found it difficult to breath, and would often get chesty coughs. I’m absolutely certain that air pollution was a factor,” she said.

“A couple of years ago, I had to stop running for a few months altogether after struggling with a chest infection. I now avoid Hope Street at all costs because the fumes from the traffic makes it so hard for me to breath.”

“The levels of pollution in Glasgow are crazy. I can almost taste the pollution in some parts of Glasgow, and the smell is horrific.”

A version of this story was published in the Sunday Herald on 21 January 2018.

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