Earlier this year Salamander Street was named by Friends of the Earth Scotland as the fifth most polluted street in Scotland when it comes to particulate matter in the air, and so it seemed like an appropriate time to do a bit of sniffing about to find out what exactly is going on and whether anything is being done about tackling the problem.
According to the most recent figures air pollution on the street currently exceeds the limits set by law, and it has done for number of consecutive years. This is a real problem even if it isn’t a particularly visible one, with poor air quality, “killing off more people than car crashes,” according to Emilia Hanna, Air Pollution Campaigner for Friends of the Earth Scotland. She adds, “Air pollution is like passive smoking, we do not choose to breathe in this poisonous air, it is inflicted upon us.”
Despite this, the area has not yet been declared an “air quality management area” (AQMA) although a Freedom of Information request to the council reveals that officers are working on this. This will require the council to put in place a specific plan for the area to bring air quality under control.
But that’s not to say that nothing has been done in the interim. Council officers and the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) have been doing some research work to identify the sources of the pollution. Part of the problem, is that particulate air pollution, or pm10’s, as they called, may travel a long way and so arise from outside the council area.
Nevertheless, the council does list a series of local sources of pollution that they suspect may be contributing towards the dangerous levels of air pollution. Thus far, they’ve just been unable to prove anything.
According to the council, activities at Leith Docks which may be contributing to exceedences of the Scottish Air Quality Standards are:
• Stock-piling of uncovered fine materials, including those associated with two concrete batching plants on site.
• Loading / storage of coal
• Movement of fine materials around the site
And other local activities which may be a potential source of PM10 are:
• A builders merchant business on Salamander Street, although much of the storage there is undercover or contained in bags.
• Activities from an adjacent scrap yard although analysis of samples of settled dust collected in the locality have not identified any metal fragments.
• Construction activities associated with a housing development at Salamander Place.
The council add that planning permission was granted in December 2011 for the Salamander place development and work commenced in 2012, but the highest concentrations of PM10 were recorded in 2010 and 2011.
Notably, the council FOI response uses about as pointed language as any council officer is likely to use, to clarify that it is SEPA that is largely responsible for regulating the Leith Docks area, and many of the industrial processes that take place there.
It continues: “In January 2014, a meeting took place between officers from the Council’s Environmental Assessment team and Forth Ports’ Operations Manager for Leith Docks to discuss current and future activities within Leith Docks. Points of note from that meeting are:
• Leith Docks will remain an ‘industrial activities’ site for the foreseeable future and will continue to be used for the transfer, storage and handling of a range of stock materials.
• Large open stockpile of grey sandy material relocated to north-west area of the docks, away from Salamander Street boundary
• 5,000 tonnes of aggregate materials were removed from site in January 2013
• Observation of a very large, open stockpile of scrap metal materials. These may give rise to fugitive emissions of PM10 when handled or moved.
• An existing concrete batching plant adjacent to Bath Road is to be relocated, further away from residential property.
• A major contract for coal off-loading terminated in 2011. This activity could resume in the event of a change in circumstances, consequently the Council will be maintaining a watching brief.
“Reductions in fugitive emissions from open sources will likely involve the development and implementation of better site management and control measures within Leith Docks, a process that will necessitate the co-operation and involvement of SEPA.”
But although the council response to our FOI enquiries indicates that they believe further action may come down to “better site management and control with Leith Docks,” it’s not clear that SEPA support this view.
We asked similar questions of SEPA and their response indicated that the high particulate emissions on Salamander Street are most likely to be associated with all the construction work that’s been undertaken in the area in recent years.
Their officials said: “A qualitative assessment was undertaken and there is no evidence to suggest that one or more of the SEPA regulated processes are contributing to the elevated levels of particulate matter that are being measured by the City of Edinburgh Council’s monitor in Salamander Street. As SEPA have no concerns regarding the operation of the regulated sites, we do not hold a list of facilities in this area of which we have concern regarding fugitive emissions.”
They continue: “We advise that there has been a great deal of redevelopment work in the area, including the demolition of warehouses and the construction of new residential properties and it was noted that there was a great deal of grit and dust on the roads in the vicinity of the monitoring station. This material was being disturbed (particularly be larger vehicles) and this may have added to the particulate matter that was being monitored by the particulate monitor.”
And when it comes specifically to Leith Docks, the FOI response goes on to make it clear SEPA have no concerns. They say: “SEPA has no concerns about the operation of the waste metal site, or the cement batching process at this time. Sepa Officers inspect both sites as required and dust escape has not been identified as an issue. We can confirm that SEPA has no recorded dust complaints from the public regarding the scrap metal site or the cement batching site in question.”
So it would seem that SEPA blames the builders, whilst the council suspect it’s the industrial process on Leith Docks. Perhaps they’re both right?
Either way, it’s clear that as the area continues to change from an industrial one, to one of a more residential character, more focussed action on the problem of dangerously poor air quality is needed now, rather than later.