A new report from the City of Edinburgh Council shows that low-emission hybrid buses have played a key role in reducing air pollution in Leith.
Officials claim that increasing use of the buses on key routes in Leith has helped to reduce Nitrogen Oxide levels on many Leith streets where this pollutant has historically been a problem.
Nevertheless, poor air quality is said to lead to around 205 early deaths per year in Edinburgh alone, according to Public Health England.
And despite official attempts to talk up air quality improvements, the actual data shows that illegal levels of NOx were still recorded on Great Junction Street, Easter Road, Leith Walk, London Road, and Bernard Street.
Indeed there is a notable difference in tone between the main report which suggests that there may be scope to roll back Air Quality Management Areas (AQMA’s must be designated where dangerous levels of pollution are found), and the appendices to the report which bluntly state that all the existing AQMA’s “remain valid,” because legal limits were breached in each one.
The reports also reveal the impact that vehicles with large diesel engines have on local air quality. On London Road for example, buses make up just 8% of the total traffic volume but generate 56% of the dangerous NOx air pollution on the street.
On Bernard Street, it’s HGV’s which cause the majority of the air pollution. Although HGV’s account for just 5% of the traffic volume of the street, they’re responsible for generating 38% of the NOx air pollution problems there.
The main report acknowledges that extending the city centre Air Quality Management Area into the Southside will be necessary and it also concludes that an Air Quality Management Area on Salamander Street is likely to be set up later in the year once research work has been completed.
This year Salamander Street was among the first streets in Scotland to break air quality limits for particulate emissions, an issue Greener Leith looked at in detail in this earlier blog post.
On Salamander Street officials report: “Salamander Street AQMS did not meet the tighter Scottish Government PM10 annual objective of 18ug/m3. Currently modelling work is being undertaken by air quality consultants in order to define an AQMA boundary to deal with industrial, transport related and other particulate matter sources near the Salamander Street monitoring location.”
Friends of the Earth Scotland are calling on the council to do more to tackle air pollution in the city. They propose establishing one or more Low Emissions Zones which would see the most heavily polluting vehicles, such as older HGV’s and buses, banned from some parts of the city.
Indeed, for streets where HGV’s are a significant problem, like Bernard Street, this might be the only way to decisively control pollution.
Friends of the Earth Scotland’s Air pollution campaigner Emilia Hanna said, “Every day people in Edinburgh are forced to breathe in toxic gases and particles from traffic. Air pollution is worsening our health, with more than 200 people in Edinburgh dying from this invisible killer each year. The Government now says that Edinburgh will only achieve clean air standards by 2020. This means many more people suffering preventable deaths and health problems.”
She added: “We are seeing some improvements in certain areas where buses have upgraded their fleet to have lower emission exhausts. This demonstrates that that air pollution can be successfully tackled and that low emission public transport is part of the solution.”
“The areas of increasing pollution show that the Council needs a more holistic approach where emission standards are improved across the whole city. It should introduce a Low Emission Zone similar to the one in Copenhagen or Berlin, where the most polluting vehicles are banned from parts of the city. It also needs to revisit the idea of congestion charging and continue its investment in walking and cycling.”
Commenting on the report, which will be considered by councillors on the 26th of August, Environment Convener, Councillor Lesley Hinds, said: “Monitoring carried out allows us to see the invisible effects traffic has on our environment, but I am heartened by the general positive trend in air quality.”
“Work carried out by bus and freight companies is having an undoubted impact on emissions, and I am certain that our approach to integrated transport will continue to have an effect.
“However, it is clear that there is still a lot to be done to reduce harmful emissions in Edinburgh, creating a cleaner, greener city for everyone, and we are committed to continuing this work with partners.”
If you would like to see councillors bring air pollution under control before 2020, then you you might want to consider emailing councillors on the Transport, Infrastructure and Environment committee. They will be meeting this week to consider what action to take to tackle the problem.
Image Credit: Kim Traynor | CC | http://bit.ly/1pijWfl
UPDATE: This post was updated to take account of further detailed information on air quality posted to the council website.