from Sunday Herald, 13 April 2014
This follows a scientific study suggesting that the performance of marathon runners and cyclists could be affected by breathing in elevated levels of tiny toxic particles from vehicle exhausts in the city.
There is also new evidence that some of Glasgow’s busiest streets have already breached air pollution safety limits this year – and fears that the demolition of five Red Road flats as part of the Games opening ceremony could make the pollution worse.
Last week large areas of England were engulfed in dangerously high levels of smog belched from vehicles and industry. Although the Prime Minister, David Cameron, blamed dust from the Sahara desert, experts said that was only a small fraction of the problem.
Though Scotland escaped this time, there’s a risk that pockets of pollution could contaminate Glasgow in July and August. “Parts of the city should be no-go areas for any athlete who wants to be at the top of their game,” said Dr Richard Dixon, director of Friends of the Earth Scotland.
“Track athletes and cyclists depend on grabbing as much oxygen as they can from the air they breathe, so any pollution reducing the efficiency of their lungs is going to mean they don’t give their top performance,” Dixon argued.
“No-one is actually going to keel over but this study shows that athletes, especially marathon runners and road cyclists, would be wise to think carefully about where they are training and keep an eye on pollution levels.”
The study was carried for the Scottish government by scientists at the University of the West of Scotland (UWS) and Imperial College London. It monitored marathon runners and cyclists on training runs in north Glasgow between January and April 2012.
It concluded that there could be a “measurable link” between pollution exposure and levels of oxygen in the blood that needed further investigation. The study’s lead author was Andrew Hursthouse, professor of environmental geochemistry at UWS in Glasgow.
He stressed that the number of verified results from the pilot study was too small to be conclusive. But he told the Sunday Herald: “It does indicate that there may be sensitivity in top athletes.”
The latest official monitoring results reveal that streets in and around Glasgow have already recorded breaches of government air quality standards in the first three months of this year. They show that limits for the toxic gas, nitrogen dioxide, and for tiny sooty particles have been exceeded 17 times at four places.
There were seven breaches on Main Street in Rutherglen, five on Hope Street, three on Dumbarton Road and two on Byres Road (see table below). Parts of Glasgow also suffered from a major pollution “episode” over two days in December 2012 when levels of tiny particles in the air remained dangerously high because of still, cold and dry weather.
Last week Commonwealth Games organisers announced that five of the notorious 30-storey Red Road flats would be razed to the ground by controlled explosions as part of the opening ceremony on 23 July. But experts say that the large amounts of dust kicked up could make the city’s pollution worse.
Dr Sean Semple, an air pollution specialist at the University of Aberdeen, pointed out that the explosions would send “many tonnes” of particulate into the air. A small fraction of very fine particles “will remained suspended in the air for several hours and may spread considerable distances,” he said.
“A study that looked at the demolition of a large hospital in Canada suggested that elevated particle levels were found over ten miles downwind of the site. How long these elevated levels will be maintained is highly dependent on the weather conditions and wind direction.”
Semple pointed out, however, that levels of air pollution at previous Commonwealth and Olympic games in Delhi, Kuala Lumpur and Beijing were significantly higher than in Glasgow. He wasn’t aware of evidence that athletes’ oxygen uptake would be affected by the air pollution levels likely to be seen in Glasgow.
Glasgow Housing Association (GHA), which is demolishing the Red Road flats, insisted there would be “absolutely no impact” on the opening ceremony. “The dust created disperses significantly within a few minutes and airborne dust levels return to normal within an hour,” said GHA’s director of regeneration, David Fletcher.
The Commonwealth Games organisers, Glasgow 2014, did not respond to a request to comment. The Scottish government pointed out that Glasgow City Council had produced an air quality action plan containing a wide range of measures to deal with air pollution in the city.
A government spokesman said: “The Scottish government is working closely with the council to assist it in implementing the plan and are fostering strong partnerships with local authorities in relation to transport emissions through the Scottish Transport Emission Partnership.”
Air pollution breaches in Glasgow
Street / exceedances of nitrogen dioxide or tiny particle standards so far in 2014
Hope Street / 5
Byres Road / 2
Dumbarton Road / 3
Main Street, Rutherglen / 7