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Scottish cities miss air pollution targets by a decade

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UK government faces fines and a health crisis due to failing to meet EU air pollution targets claims campaigners

The health of Scottish people is being damaged by the country’s high level of air pollution environmental campaigners have claimed.

Friends of the Earth said UK government data shows some of Scotland’s busiest streets are breaking European law over levels of nitrogen dioxide.

The warning follows the recent revelation by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) that Scotland will not meet air pollution targets until 2020 in Edinburgh, central Scotland and north east Scotland and until 2025 in Glasgow.

The UK government had previously agreed to reduce pollution levels by 2010 but that deadline was extended to 2015 after it was deemed too tough a target to achieve.

Nitrogen dioxide is a toxic chemical spat out mainly by vehicles and is said to aggravate asthma as well as potentially causing heart disease, strokes, and lung cancer.

Friends of the Earth Scotland air pollution campaigner Emilia Hanna said a number of busy Scottish streets are on track to break legal limits for 2014 with Glasgow’s Hope Street judged the worst offender so far this year with nitrogen dioxide levels of 66 microgrammes per cubic metre – over 50% above the safe limit of 40.

She said: “It is disappointing to see continued high levels, especially because Scotland and the UK have been called up by European Courts for their slow progress on cleaning up the air.

For the sake of people's lives and wellbeing, air pollution needs to be tackled as an urgent priority – we cannot afford to wait any longer

“These delays see the prospect of clean air slipping over the horizon for people living in Scottish towns and cities.

“It is unbelievable that we will have to wait another six years for clean air in Edinburgh and even worse that we have to wait until 2025 for clean air in Glasgow."

Under EU rules Europe could eventually impose hefty fines on the UK government if it fails to clean up its act.

Hanna said the Scottish Government must now take measures to reduce air pollution such as halting unnecessary road developments, investing more in walking and cycling, and improving public transport instead of waiting for improvements in vehicle technology to solve the problem.

She continued: "The health impacts of air pollution are clear, the government's strategy is not. For the sake of people's lives and wellbeing, air pollution needs to be tackled as an urgent priority. We cannot afford to wait any longer."

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “These revised projections from Defra are very disappointing as previous projections suggested that all parts of Scotland would comply with legal limits for nitrogen dioxide pollution from traffic within the next couple of years.

“Although the UK, as member state, is ultimately responsible for its failure to comply with the nitrogen dioxide limits in the European air quality directive, Scotland takes our EU obligations very seriously.

“That is why we have been working hard – in close collaboration with local authorities, Transport Scotland, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, Health Protection Scotlandand other partner – to put in place a series of measures which have led to significant improvements in air quality in recent years, and our action plans set out the work being done to meet EU standards in the shortest possible time.”