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Clean Air Day: Doctors call for tighter NO2 limits in Scotland

A triumvirate of medical groups in Scotland are using Clean Air Day to call on the Scottish Government reduce the recommended limits for air pollution in an effort to ultimately align them with those of the World Health Organisation.

The Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh (RCPE), Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) in Scotland and Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) in Scotland are asking that yearly average levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) be reduced  from 40µg/m³ to 20 µg/m³, over the next five years, and to the WHO-recommended level of 10µg/m³ by 2035.

a blue and white flag

They are also asking that the Scottish Government focuses on reducing peak levels of traffic-related air pollution.

Commenting, Professor Jill Belch, Co-Chair of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh’s short-life working group on air pollution, said: ‘The Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh has consistently called for urgent action on air pollution. Clean Air Day is the perfect time to remind political leaders that there’s much more to do in reducing the preventable ill health caused by air pollution.

‘We recently proposed to the Scottish Government a pilot scheme to place air quality monitors near a number of urban primary schools in our largest cities. By doing so, we could collect better data on air pollution “hotspots” near schools, which could make Scotland better informed to create policy to reduce child ill health linked to air pollution.’

Professor Andrew Elder, President, The Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh said: ‘Prevention of illness and disease must be central to the Scottish Government’s plans for public health. Air pollution must be a continued focus of preventative efforts – particularly to avoid exposing children to harmful air in the early stages of their lives. We ask all politicians in Scotland to take this matter seriously – and meet the levels recommended by the World Health Organization.’

Dr Mairi Stark, Scottish Officer, The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health said: ‘As paediatricians, we see first-hand the detrimental impact air pollution has on children. Children are particularly vulnerable to air pollution, as they breathe faster and inhale more airborne toxicants in proportion to their weight, than adults exposed to the same air pollution. This can have a lasting impact on their health and development. Studies show that children and young people in deprived communities also bear the greatest burden of air pollution, exacerbating already rampant health inequalities.

‘The Scottish Government must act to address this and prevent further widening of child health disparities. Urgent action is required to meet WHO recommendations and ensure children in Scotland grow up in a healthy environment. RCPCH calls on the Scottish Government to make child health a focal point in all climate change policies and prioritise reducing air pollution.’

Dr Munro Stewart, Joint clinician representative for Climate and Sustainability at RCGP Scotland: ‘There is much to be gained from action on improving air quality. Air pollution impacts all the organs in our body and contributes to Scotland’s poor record of health inequity. The Scottish Government should take action and commit to this yearly average target for nitrogen dioxide, alongside a holistic approach to this multi-factorial challenge, as this will deliver healthier communities and reduce demand on an overstretched NHS.’

Paul Day
Paul is the editor of Public Sector News.

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