UK (University of Stirling) Air pollution expert marks Clean Air Day 2023 by urging action on global crisis

An expert on air pollution at the University of Stirling has marked Clean Air Day 2023 by suggesting small steps we can all take to tackle the global crisis.

Seven million premature deaths every year are caused by air pollution around the world, with an estimated 2500 – 3500 of those in Scotland.

The World Health Organisation defines air pollution as contamination of the indoor or outdoor environment by any chemical, physical, or biological agent that changes the natural characteristics of the atmosphere.

WHO data show that 99% of the global population breathe air that exceeds WHO guideline limits.

Air pollution in Scotland comes from a range of sources, including motor vehicles, industrial facilities, and forest fires – causing potentially fatal diseases.

Dr Heather Price, a Senior Lecturer in Environmental Geography in the Faculty of Natural Sciences, said: “There’s lots that we can do as individuals to reduce the amount of pollution we produce and breathe. We can walk or cycle instead of driving, take quieter routes, use public transport, avoid using wood burning stoves, save energy, and if we do have to drive, avoid idling. The impacts of these actions might seem small but collectively the impact is huge.”

The theme of this year’s Clean Air Day is ‘Clean up our air to look after your mind’, highlighting that air pollution has impacts on our health well beyond heart and lung conditions – recent research has linked it to dementia.

Dr Price said: “Most of the health burden of air pollution is borne by vulnerable groups, including children, older people, those living in disadvantaged areas with higher air pollution and those living with health conditions like asthma.

“Scotland-wide action to improve air quality was recently criticised in an Air Quality Investigation Improvement Report issued to Scottish Ministers by Environmental Standards Scotland.

“Measures like the new Low Emission Zone (LEZ) in Glasgow and future LEZs in Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen, are a step in the right direction. However, given the complexity of the problem, a range of solutions are simultaneously needed to tackle emissions across the key polluting sectors of transport, industry and agriculture.”

Dr Price was named UKRI Regional Clean Air Champion for Scotland in October 2021. She is one of five Regional Champions in the UK tasked with raising awareness of the Clean Air Programme, which aims to develop practical solutions for air quality issues.

Dr Price’s article to mark Clean Air Day 2023 was published in The Herald.