Campaigners urged Scots to ditch cars to help protect children from the impact of air pollution and accused local authorities across Scotland of not acting fast enough to reduce traffic. 

Environmental charities have encouraged people to go polluting-vehicle free on Thursday, to mark Clean Air Day 2021, this year promoting the theme “protect our children’s health from air pollution”. 

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Air pollution kills 2,500 people in Scotland each year and puts the population at risk of serious health conditions, like asthma, heart attacks, and strokes. 

It causes, and worsens, many of the conditions that leave people more vulnerable to Covid-19.

However, Clean Air Day organisers said, while air pollution “impacts us all from our first breath to our last”, children are at higher risk to both the short-and longer-term impacts. 

Poor air quality affects their health, lung development, and the ability to learn, as demonstrated by the Ella Kissi-Debrah case, whose recent landmark ruling established the causes of the nine-year-old’s death were associated with air pollution.

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As children return to their lives, campaigners say, cleaner air is “imperative” for them to walk and cycle to school safely and learn and play in healthy spaces.

Friends of the Earth (FoE) Scotland have also warned that the opportunity for cleaner air is disappearing quickly as councils fail to take action. 

After a delay due to Covid-19, Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dundee councils are all launching their low emission zones (LEZs) with plans that have been scaled back since the original proposals.

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Gavin Thomson, FoE Scotland’s air pollution campaigner, said: “On this Clean Air Day, it’s great to see Councils, at long last, introduce Low Emission Zones, but these are tiny areas in our biggest cities, which will only restrict a small number of very old and polluting vehicles. 

“Councils and Government need to take action on air pollution in our communities, not just in city centres - moving traffic away from where people live and spend time. 

“And we need them to act fast - in the years we’ve waited for these zones in Scotland, many children living in or near Scotland’s cities will have developed asthma due to poor air quality.”

“Improvements in Scotland’s air quality due to Covid-19 restrictions were substantial but short-lived. 

“Traffic is back up to pre-pandemic levels, so the air we’re breathing today is just as harmful as it was 15 months ago.”

Dr Linda de Caestecker, director of public health at NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, said: “Air pollution is a contributing factor in respiratory complaints and premature deaths, but the good news is we all do our bit to help make the air we breathe more clean.

"If more of us use active travel, walking or cycling for short journeys, instead of using the car or transport, we will reduce harmful emissions.

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"That’s not only better for our own health and wellbeing, but can allow us all to breathe more easily.”

As part of the UK-wide initiative, organised by Global Action Plan, schools, businesses, health organisations, community groups and local authorities have also been encouraged to take action.

Larissa Lockwood, director of Clean Air at Global Action Plan, said: “Our children have not been exempt from the turmoil and disruption caused by the global pandemic. 

“As we return to our lives, we must take this chance to create a healthier environment for our children to go back to - where they can learn and play safely. 

“By protecting our children from the damage caused by air pollution, we are protecting their future.

HeraldScotland:

“This Clean Air Day we must all come together to collectively take action and seize this moment to support change, for good. We have a once in a lifetime opportunity for change. We must use it.”

The Scottish Government first announced that they would implement areas restricted to polluting vehicles in these four cities in 2016, but they have been repeatedly delayed.

City of Edinburgh Council had initially planned a citywide zone to exclude the most polluting HGVs and buses, although this has now been dropped leaving only a small zone in the city centre. 

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Dundee’s Low Emission Zone - which excludes three major car parks in the city centre - has been approved by the local authority. 

Glasgow’s, which until now has only restricted old diesel buses, will move to restrict all vehicle types, while Aberdeen’s is expected to be approved by the local council later this month.

The four councils responsible for the Low Emission Zones will be launching consultations so the public can have their say on the plans.

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As part of Clean Air Day 2021, individuals are being asked to leave their cars at home and refrain from ordering non-essential, polluting deliveries, as well as supporting their local authority’s actions to tackle air pollution to protect children’s health.

Schools and businesses are being encouraged to raise awareness of the risks of poor air quality and commit to protecting children’s health. 

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Hospitals and health professionals will be hosting events throughout the day, using the campaign as an opportunity to share information with patients and staff on the impact of air pollution and how to protect their health.