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Report says Scotland needs to tighten air quality standards

Environmental Standards Scotland is calling for a tightening of the air pollution limits for particulate matter that is currently set out in the Air Quality Standards (Scotland) Regulations. 

Environmental Standards Scotland (ESS) was set up to replace the European Union’s scrutiny and enforcement role after Brexit, to ensure environmental laws and standards are adhered to in Scotland.

They have published a new report: ‘Particulate matter in Scotland – an assessment of the evidence, ambition and prospects’, which assesses where the country now stands in terms of its progress in improving air quality.

The report was prepared following the publication of new guidance by the World Health Organisation in 2021, advising that more stringent limits for particulate matter should be introduced to safeguard public health.

In 2016, Scotland was the first country in Europe to adopt the 2005 World Health Organisation guideline of an annual mean 10 µg/m³ for PM2.5 as a domestic objective

The report explains that Scotland initially made good progress in reducing PM levels but, as these were mostly down to what is described as ‘easy wins’, renewed ambition is require to ensure continuing improvement.

In 2022, 89% of sites with data capture of at least 75% (67 of 75 sites) measured an average concentration in exceedance of the WHO air quality guidelines of 5 µg/m³ for annual PM2.5. Of those which exceeded it, they did so by an average of 18% (a mean of 5.88 µg/m³)


The ESS make four main recommendations, which are:

1. The Scottish Government should bring forward proposals for new statutory standards for particulate matter. Specifically, this revision should include:

• Introducing a new target for a 24-hour limit value for PM2.5
• Raising ambition on the current annual mean limit value for PM2.5
• Raising ambition on the 24-hour and annual mean limit value for PM10
• Introducing an exposure reduction target to replace the expired UK one

2. The Scottish Government should make the country’s PM monitoring network more responsive to the changing pattern of emissions sources. Specifically:

• Ensure modelling and monitoring continues to be internationally comparable 
• Make independent assessments of emerging areas and sectors of concern that do not depend on where current monitoring infrastructure is located (including: industrial processes, industrial combustion, residential and other combustion and agriculture)
• Consider where the most vulnerable people in society are spending their time

3. The Scottish Government should clarify when it will conduct and publish its planned review of the Clean Air Act 1993.

4. The Scottish Government should consider how best to fill the gap left by the UK Government’s revocation of Regulations 9 and 10 of the National Emissions Ceiling Regulations 2018.


Mark Roberts, Chief Executive of ESS, said: ‘Scotland has made significant progress in recent decades in reducing emissions of particulate matter and is currently largely meeting its objectives and limit values for concentrations of particulate matter.

‘However, the scientific evidence has strengthened about the damage to human health caused by particulate matter. This is why it is important that the Scottish Government updates the limits for particulate matter in Scotland to reflect this evidence.

‘Emissions from transport have rightly been the focus of recent decades. Attention now needs to be widened to include other sectors. Our analysis concludes that emissions from industry, agriculture and residential combustion now need attention to make further improvements.’

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