Published on March 4th, 2019 | by Sam Johnson


Aberdeen Air Quality – What’s Being Done?

As we learn more about the damaging effects of pollution on both our health and the health of the planet, there is an increased call for detailed analysis of data regarding pollution.

Improvements in the levels of air pollutants have largely been driven by the European Union’s Air Quality Directive which sets targets for reducing emission levels and limiting exposure to various hazardous substances. Implementation of the Directive heavily relies on monitoring levels of these pollutants.

One of the pollutants included in this EU Directive is nitrogen dioxide (NO2). Evidence from epidemiological studies suggest that NO2 levels are correlated with lung function and respiratory conditions such as acute bronchitis. The Air Quality Directive set a deadline to limit NO2 levels to 40 micrograms per cubic metre by 2010. However, despite improvements, a recent analysis of data has worryingly identified 13 Aberdeen locations which are yet to meet this requirement and continue to have hazardous NO2 levels. Aberdeen City Council’s 2018 Air Quality Progress Report showed that, over the previous year, certain areas had average NO2 levels of up to 48 micrograms per cubic metre, well above the level set by the EU Directive. This high level of pollution is likely putting the health of these area’s residents at risk by increasing their vulnerability to respiratory conditions. In addition to our obligation to protect these residents, some estimates have suggested that the cost of these adverse health effects economically justifies more drastic action to be taken to tackle this issue.

There have been many suggestions for making further improvements to reduce levels of pollutants but what’s actually being done?

One approach to lowering pollution levels are Low Emission Zones (LEZs). These areas in which the volume or use of certain kinds of vehicles is restricted. LEZs were first introduced in Scotland in 2018 with the Scottish Government aiming to roll out LEZs in all four of Scotland’s largest cities (Aberdeen, Dundee, Glasgow and Edinburgh) by 2020. There is some evidence of the effectiveness of these LEZs with NO2 levels decreasing by half in one London location where a Low Emission Bus Zone was in operation.

Further improvement is hoped to come from the completion of Aberdeen’s new bypass opened in December 2018. This bypass should divert traffic, especially highly polluting industrial transport such as heavy goods vehicles, away from the city centre.

It is also hoped that the Aberdeen Hydrogen Bus Project will positively affect levels of air pollution throughout Aberdeen and the surrounding Shire. These buses use hydrogen fuel cells to create the electrical power required to drive the wheels. Since the only by-products of the reaction are water and heat, it has the benefit of almost no harmful substances being released into the local environment.

Although we have become increasingly aware of the importance of pollutants and their potential damaging effects, a greater effort is needed to prevent or at least further reduce the emission of potentially harmful substances in order to protect our own health and the health of the planet.

Featured image of Aberdeen hydrogen bus by Bill Harrison from Geograph (CC BY-SA 2.0).

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