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The quality of the air around us is affected by pollutants released into the atmosphere through human activities, such as transport and industry, as well as from natural sources.
The quality of Scotland’s air has improved considerably over the last few decades, and in general it is now cleaner than at any time since the Industrial Revolution (in the 19th century). However, in some areas poor air quality still affects human health and the environment.
Air quality in urban areas has improved significantly since the 1950s, but there are still some areas of towns and cities where the air quality is of concern. We have significantly reduced some pollutants through tighter controls on emissions. However, there is still a significant amount of work to be done.
The main air pollutants are:
These pollutants are generated from a wide range of human and natural sources, and affect urban and rural environments, although the sources and effects may be different in the two environments. Despite reductions in emissions, we still see the impacts of airborne pollutants (acid and nitrogen-rich pollutants) in many of our sensitive habitats.
The main challenges are emissions from:
In urban areas, emissions from transport are the primary concern, increasing levels of particulates and nitrogen oxides.
Where air-quality standards are not being met, local authorities have set up Air Quality Management Areas (AQMAs). As monitoring and assessment in Scotland has increased, more AQMAs have been identified.
Policy and legislative measures aim to reduce air pollution, but wider measures need to be considered to achieve further reductions.
You can also view our PDF version of the Air infographic.