Doctors are calling for "urgent action" to bring down levels of air pollution amid warnings that it remains a leading cause of preventable ill health

Health Protection Scotland estimate that there are some 1,700 premature deaths in Scotland annually which can be attributed to air pollution, including by increasing the risk of heart attacks and strokes. 

In an appeal to coincide with Clean Air Day, representatives from Scotland's medical royal colleges are pushing the Scottish Government to do more to tackle the problem. 


The Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh (RCPE), The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) in Scotland, and The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) in Scotland want the Scottish Government to focus on reducing yearly average levels of nitrogen dioxide, a toxic gas produced mainly from transport.

An investigation by Environmental Standards Scotland (ESS) reported last year that there was a “continued failure” in some parts of Scotland to meet the statutory average annual nitrogen dioxide levels limit of 40 micrograms per cubic meter of air (µg/m3).

Medics said Scotland should strive to achieve 20 µg/m³ within the next five years, with the ultimate aim of reducing nitrogen dioxide levels to the 10µg/m³ maximum recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) by 2035.

They also want the Scottish Government to focus on reducing peak levels of traffic-related air pollution, that occur during busy periods such as rush hour when schoolchildren are more likely to be exposed.

Air pollution is linked to premature birth, smaller infants with decreased brain growth, children’s hospital admissions with lung and skin disease, and significant adult ill health such as heart attacks, dementia, stroke and lung disease.

The RCPE recently proposed a pilot scheme to place air quality monitors near a number of urban primary schools in Scotland's largest cities.

Children walking to and from school at rush hour are at higher riskChildren walking to and from school at rush hour are at higher risk

Professor Jill Belch, co-chair of RCPE's short-life working group on air pollution, said: "By doing so, we can collect better data on air pollution 'hotspots' near schools, which could make Scotland better informed to create policies to reduce child ill health linked to air pollution.”

Dr Mairi Stark, Scottish Officer for the RCPCH, said: “As paediatricians, we see first-hand the detrimental impact air pollution has on children.

"Children are particularly vulnerable to air pollution, as they breathe faster and inhale more airborne toxicants in proportion to their weight, than adults exposed to the same air pollution.

"This can have a lasting impact on their health and development.

"Studies show that children and young people in deprived communities also bear the greatest burden of air pollution, exacerbating already rampant health inequalities.

“The Scottish Government must act to address this and prevent further widening of child health disparities.

"Urgent action is required to meet WHO recommendations and ensure children in Scotland grow up in a healthy environment.”

Dr Munro Stewart, Joint clinician representative for Climate and Sustainability at RCGP Scotland, added that doing more to tackle air pollution would "reduce demand on an overstretched NHS". 

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Scotland enjoys good air quality compared with much of Europe, but we are not complacent and determined to go further.

“Our work to deliver our 2021 strategy, Clean Air for Scotland 2, including the introduction of Low Emission Zones in our four largest cities, means that Scotland has met all of its air quality objectives for the second consecutive year.

“In addition, the Scottish Government is considering the implications for future policy following the publication of the updated WHO air quality guidelines.”