A retired Selkirk GP believes poor air quality, exacerbated by increased diesel engine emissions, could be posing a major risk to the health of Borderers.
In his role as director of the Selkirk Regeneration Company (SRC), Dr Lindsay Neil has this week launched a fundraising campaign so that high tech portable testing equipment can be deployed in his town and in neighbouring Galashiels.
And he has described the region’s single air quality monitoring site in Peebles as “woefully inadequate in assessing the risks for the rest of the Borders”.
“Since January last year, when figures for pollution levels in Scottish towns due to diesel engine emissions were first published, I have been concerned that we are slowly poisoning ourselves and our children in some parts of the Borders,” said Dr Neil.
The real momentum for his campaign, however, came last week when Channel 4’s Dispatches screened a documentary entitled “Dirty Secrets”, featuring new research which indicated that carcinogenic particles of nitrogen dioxide from diesel exhausts not only caused asthma, but impaired the intellect of children exposed to the fumes.
“These emissions are ubiquitous, given that over 50% of all road vehicles now have diesel engines, and certainly extend beyond Peebles,” said Dr Neil.
That static monitoring site is one of 71 in Scotland – part of a network run by the UK Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).
Maintained by Scottish Borders Council, its up-to-date readings, which are normally low, are published on the Air Quality in Scotland website which is commissioned and funded by the Scottish Government.
“The inadequacy of emissions testing in this region should be of concern to everyone and, until we know the extent of the problem and can assess the risk, we cannot take the necessary action” said Dr Neil.
“In Selkirk, our regeneration company has long been concerned about the high levels of traffic, especially heavy goods vehicles, passing through the town centre and following the A7 right past the high school.
“With the kind of hand-held monitors featured in the TV programme, we can identify hotspots and take steps to get our children and toddlers away from the deadly particle emissions, such as by imposing traffic diversions at high risk times and erecting barriers between pedestrians and diesel exhausts.
“Hopefully the results recorded in this grass roots initiative will be noted by the decision makers who will act accordingly.”
Dr Neil said the SRC wanted to purchase two portable monitors, for use initially in Selkirk and Galashiels, which could also be used to measure emissions in other Borders towns.
“Each piece of kit costs around £2,000 and the SRC already has £250 but we need more,” said Dr Neil, urging anyone who wishes to contribute to this “worthwhile cause” to make donations to Selkirk Regeneration Company (charity number SCO37397), c/o RBS, 12 High Street, Selkirk.