Cleaner air for Scotland and improved lung health through Low Emission Zones

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The year 2020 has brought respiratory health to the forefront of everyone’s minds. For some however, it has been their primary concern for much longer. People who live with lung conditions in the Scotland are often reminded of their lung health concerns every time they step outside their front door.

Whilst many take walking down the street for granted, this simple activity can leave those with a lung condition coughing, wheezing or feeling their chest tighten. The levels of pollution created by long streams of traffic expelling harmful fumes into the air from exhausts can irritate the delicate lining of the lung and trigger a flare up of symptoms which can be life threatening. Latest estimates suggest that the equivalent of over 2,000 lives are cut short each year in Scotland from air pollution.

One of the most effective ways we can tackle the levels of air pollution in Scotland is the creation of Low Emission Zones (LEZs) in our towns and cities. Low Emission Zones, as already implemented in major cities across Europe, limit vehicular access to city centres to improve the air quality. By expanding zones to apply to private cars as well as buses, lorries and other large vehicles, Scotland could deliver compliance with legal levels and positively impact on children’s health. A zone introduced in Berlin in 2008, which did include restrictions on private cars, and expanded in 2010 led to PM and NO2 emissions 50% and 20% lower than the predicted trend making a marked improvement in the air quality.

Even small reductions in vehicle numbers can lead to significant health benefits as demonstrated earlier this year when lockdown led to 1 in 6 people in Scotland noticing a clear improvement in their lung condition symptoms due to the reduction in traffic. With our current lifestyle changes caused by the pandemic, such as working from home, we are cutting down on the number of journeys we make and therefore the amount of air pollution created. If (as we begin to return to life before lockdown) we continue to reduce the number of journeys we make by using public transport or active travel, we could make a huge impact on our lung health.

As vehicle emissions rise towards pre-lockdown levels, we need to do everything in our power to ensure we are taking steps toward meeting the objectives of the Cleaner Air for Scotland strategy, including the implementation of LEZs. Any delay in improving the air quality in Scotland will have a negative effect on those suffering from lung conditions. We would like to thank ScotRail and bus operators for their efforts to try to make public transport COVID safe during this worrying time and we hope that as it becomes safe to do so, people will return to using public transport to reduce air pollution.

If we all work to make Scotland’s air cleaner, we can improve our nation’s health, helping everyone to breathe clean air with healthy lungs.

Joseph Carter

Head of Asthma UK and British Lung Foundation Scotland