THE health of thousands of Scots is being put at risk every year with cities failing to meet targets on air pollution, environmentalists have warned.

Friends of the Earth Scotland (FoES) hit out after publishing a list of the most polluted streets in the country.

The report found fumes from vehicle exhausts breached air pollution safety limits at 26 urban sites across Scotland last year, with the worst levels recorded at Hope Street in Glasgow city centre.

Pollution hotspots were also found in Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Dundee, Paisley, Perth, Falkirk and several other towns. Bearsden was also highlighted.

According to experts, high levels of nitrogen dioxide from vehicles can cause breathing problems and heart attacks.

Up to 3000 people in Scotland are estimated to die prematurely each year from air pollution, compared to 190 deaths from road accidents.

Dr Richard Dixon, director of FoES, said air pollution was the biggest environmental threat to health. "Fumes from cars, lorries and buses kill at least 10 times the number who die in road crashes every year," he said.

"Some of these targets were set in the late 1990s and were supposed to be met in 2005, yet we still have air pollution at dangerous levels on streets across Scotland.

"Both the Scottish Government and our local authorities have failed to take this issue seriously and, between them, they need to do more than make promises they don't deliver.

"We need action on traffic levels and the types of vehicles allowed on our most polluted streets."

Mr Dixon also claimed the results indicated a problem for the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

"Glasgow has a particular problem, with heavy traffic and tall buildings combining to create a polluted city centre, and the Government predicts these problems will not be fixed until after 2020," he said.

"This is bad news for the athletes and visitors who will come to Glasgow for next year's Commonwealth Games."

Professor James Curran, chief executive of environmental body Sepa, urged travellers to walk, cycle or use public transport, all of which have lower emissions. ''If you really have to drive, try car-sharing, choose the cleanest car you can, and drive it as economically as you can," he said.

And Dr Sean Semple, an air pollution expert at Aberdeen University, said there was good evidence the tiny particles produced by combustion engines are harmful to health.

The Scottish Government accepted there were "localised hotspots of poorer air quality in a number of urban areas", but insisted air pollution targets are being met across most of Scotland.

"We recognise we must build on achievements and continue to take action to improve air quality," said a spokesman, who added that more than £1 billion a year was being invested in getting people out of their cars.

"This is a long-term delivery agenda to reflect the fact that changes steadily take effect within society over time."

On pollution in Glasgow, the spokesman added: "A number of measures are being implemented to reduce air pollution in the city, including a commitment from Glasgow City Council to introduce and enforce Low Emission Zones at the Commonwealth Games venues in 2014."

The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla) said councils were working to reduce pollution levels. "City councils have participated in Scottish Government funding programmes for retrofitting buses," said a spokesman.