Have you ever noticed an inconspicuous green box in Glasgow’s city centre with the label ‘Air Quality Monitoring Station’ only partially concealed by graffiti? You wouldn’t be the only one to answer that question with a no. I certainly haven’t noticed it. But that unremarkable box is responsible for recording air pollution levels that prove just how dire the situation is in Glasgow.
The wee green box proves that nitrogen monoxide levels are regularly more than double the legal limit. In 2014, Hope Street had the worst Nitrogen Dioxide annual average in all of Scotland with 65μg/m3 compared to both the Scottish and European legal limit of 40 μg/m3. Scotland, and Glasgow in particular, is a widely recognized air pollution crisis zone with the WHO naming Glasgow one of the worst UK urban areas for it. The European Supreme Court has even ruled that the UK government must take immediate measures to reduce air pollution in accordance with European law. If a solution is not found by the end of the year, it could go to the Court of Justice and the government will face hefty fines.
The City Council claims to “recognize there is more to be done”. Nonetheless, some of Glasgow’s air pollution hot spots are worse than in 2013, and the legal limits that should have been reached by 2010 are still being exceeded. The government promised a new Low Emission Strategy by 2014, but we are still waiting for it to appear.
Cynics may not act surprised and claim governments only care about money. But even so, money could be a key incentive to stimulate a course of action to reduce air pollution: its effects are said to cost NHS Scotland more than two billion pounds annually. Yet at the current rate and plans, the standards will only be reached by 2025.
Money is arguably the most negligible reason to care about air pollution. It increases the chance of heart attack, stroke, cancer and asthma. In children it may restrict lung development and has even been linked to autism if pregnant mothers are exposed to high levels of fine-particulate air pollution. Air pollution is responsible for over 2000 deaths a year in Scotland, 300 in Glasgow alone.
Activists say it is not too late. Friends of the Earth Scotland call for reduced traffic levels, improved cycle and walking paths, and cleaner public transport. They advocate a diesel scrappage scheme and for the establishment of Low Emission Zones that have proven successful in multiple European countries. Yet they highlight this all relies on the political emphasis shifting towards acknowledging the importance of air pollution and therefore providing money to underfunded councils.
Air pollution is easy to overlook. It is, in fact, largely invisible. Yet we feel it and it effects our every breath. It is a problem that must be taken seriously. Whilst it is easy to blame everything on the government, we too can effect change. Consider walking somewhere rather than catching a bus or an Uber. Perhaps you will invest in a bike for longer distances. You might go a step further and join one of many activist societies or consider it an important factor the next time you vote. Regardless of your approach, don’t allow the invisibility of the problem to let you forget it.
Image: The Telegraph