How Clean is Your Air?

By Olivia Adam 

Scotland may not be the most polluted country in the world, but just how safe is its air and how can you check? 

What is air pollution? 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines air pollution as: “Air pollution is the contamination of the indoor or outdoor environment by any chemical, physical or biological agent that modifies the natural characteristics of the atmosphere.”

They also recognise that 99% of the world’s population breathes air that is over the WHO’s recommended limits with IQ Air attributing an average of 7 million deaths each year to air pollution. 

(Factories are one of the main air polluters along with transport Photograph: Pixabay)

How Clean is Scotland?

Scottish air is some of the cleanest in the UK and certainly better than its neighbour, England according to IQ Air. However, The Royal College of Physicians’ research notes that Scotland’s air pollution is responsible for an estimated 2,500-3,500 premature deaths each year. 

This is due to the amount of PM2.5 and PM10 (tiny invisible particles that can pass into the lungs) and NO2 (nitrogen dioxide) in the air, usually released by buses and cars. 

The European Ambient Air Quality Directive has established the legal limit for NO2 at 40 micrograms per cubic meter of air (mcg/m3). The Scottish annual statutory standard for particulate matter (PM10) has been limited to 18 micrograms per cubic metre.

But Friends of the Earth Scotland revealed that after Covid-19 air pollution skyrocketed in 2021 exceeding legal guidelines. 

(Data Provided by Friends of the Earth, Photograph: Olivia Adam)

These pollutants are associated with heart and lung disease, stroke and bronchitis. 

What about Glasgow?

According to IQ Air’s 2019 World Air Quality Report, Glasgow is the most polluted city in Scotland with an annual average concentration of 7.1 µg/m3 in PM2.5 pollution followed by Aberdeen at 7 µg/m3, Edinburgh 6.6 µg/m3 and Dundee at 6.2 µg/m3. 

Dubbed as ‘the dirtiest street in Scotland’ by Friends of the Earth earlier this year, Hope Street, situated in Glasgow’s City Centre is the most polluted street in Glasgow and has exceeded the Scottish annual NO2 target since 2012. This is due to the number of high rise buildings which prevents wind from disseminating pollution that comes from places like Central Station or exhaust pipes.

However, IQ Air reports that in December of 2020 Glasgow’s recorded air quality was between good and moderate 0-100 with the average number being around 65. 

In 2017, Glasgow City Council introduced four low emission zones (LEZ) which applied to local bus services. Over five years, they were to reduce their emissions by 20 per cent until the end of 2022. However, from 1 June 2023, all transport vehicles except motorcycles and mopeds must meet emission guidelines to steer clear of a fine. 

How can I check my area’s air pollution?

It is now easier than ever to track the quality of air in your area with Address Pollution’s Air Quality Map. They aim to get real estate websites to lawfully divulge the air pollution of the area in which they are selling properties. The map provides a colour code which indicates how clean your area is comparing PM2.5, PM10 and NO2 levels with the WHO guidelines. If it is yellow they urge you to ‘demand action’ by signing their petition for property websites to have air pollution ratings on all listings. 

(Air Quality Report in Glasgow’s West End Photograph: Air Quality Map)

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