When it comes to Scotland’s air quality, SEPA has a number of roles.

As well as regulating and monitoring emissions from certain industrial activities that can cause air pollution, we:

  • provide policy and operational advice to government, industry and the public on pollution control and other environmental issues;

  • work with partners to understand and improve air quality;

  • provide information on emissions from regulated industries through the Scottish Pollutant Release Inventory (SPRI);

  • work towards Scottish and UK objectives and targets set to address global climate change and the cross-border transport of pollutants;

  • operate the Airborne Hazards Emergency Response Service (AHERS) on behalf of the Scottish Government.

Local air quality is monitored by local authorities.

Regulating and monitoring emissions

SEPA currently regulates over 500 major industrial sites that have the potential to cause air pollution through the Pollution Prevention and Control (PPC) regulations.
The aim is to provide an integrated approach to pollution control preventing emissions into air, water or land wherever this is practicable. Where prevention is not possible, the aim is to minimise emissions in order to achieve a high level of protection for the environment as a whole.

SEPA sets limits for pollutants emitted and carries out inspections and monitoring of sites to ensure that these are being adhered to. SEPA audits emissions to the atmosphere from regulated processes through its own programme of emission monitoring. In addition, ambient monitoring may be undertaken around various regulated processes to invetsigate specific issues. Combined with the use of mathematical dispersion models, this data helps to inform licence conditions and ensure that environmental quality standards are met.

SEPA can monitor for the following substances in ambient air:

  • particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5);
  • sulphur dioxide;
  • oxides of nitrogen;
  • carbon monoxide;
  • hydrogen sulphide;
  • heavy metals;
  • organic substances;
  • nuisance dust.

Policy and operational advice

SEPA has a statutory role in development control and this is probably the most effective way we can help control transport emissions in the long-term.

Although local air quality is the responsibility of local authorities (including monitoring), SEPA is a statutory consultee in accordance with Schedule 11 of the Environment Act 1995 and is deemed as the appropriate authority for local air quality management under section 85 of the Act.

There is a statutory duty placed on SEPA to have regard to the requirements of the Air Quality Strategy for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in carrying out all its pollution control functions.

SEPA also has reserve powers (subject to the approval of Scottish Ministers) to direct local authorities where it appears they are not meeting, or unlikely to meet, their local air quality management obligations.  Invoking these powers is regarded as an option of last resort with priority given to providing support and information to LAs on local, technical and process issues.  To date these powers have never been invoked.

We also provide policy and operational advice to government, industry and the public on pollution control and other environmental issues. In addition, we work towards Scottish and UK objectives and targets set to address global climate change and the cross-border transport of pollutants.

Working with partners to understand and improve air quality

While local authorities are required to review and assess air quality in their areas, SEPA is the Appropriate Authority for the Local Air Quality Management (LAQM) regime and it is a statutory consultee for all work in relation to this regime. 

Local air quality also cuts across many of SEPA’s corporate objectives and targets.
As such SEPA carries out much of this work ‘behind the scenes’ and provides a vital role in influencing air quality issues. This work includes:

  • building and maintaining an excellent close working relationship with local authority officers and the consultancies who work with the local authorities;

  • providing technical advice based on local knowledge of an area;

  • chairing and co-managing (with Transport Scotland) the Scottish Transport Emissions Partnership (STEP);

  • developing new relationships with key partners and stakeholders, such as Transport Scotland, Glasgow 2014 and Health Protection Scotland (HPS), to help address air quality issues;

  • commissioning, and participating in, research and development projects to enhance our knowledge of air-quality.

As statutory consultee for some planning applications and development plans, SEPA aims to prevent or minimise the impact of new development on local air quality, by objecting to development/structure plans and planning applications where appropriate.

Providing information on emissions from regulated industries

The Scottish Pollutant Release Inventory (SPRI) is a publicly accessible, electronic database of releases of certain pollutants, which supports the prevention and reduction of pollution and allows comparison of releases across industries in Scotland, the UK and Europe.

This contributes to the increased public access to environmental information, effective public participation and access to justice required by the international Aarhus Convention. SPRI also delivers the system by which Scotland complies with the requirements of the European Pollutant Release and Transfer Register.

Airborne Hazards Emergency Response Service (AHERS)

The main aim of AHERS is to protect the public in the event of a significant air pollution incident. It provides the capability for SEPA, HPS and other agencies to carry out high quality public health and environmental risk assessments based on monitoring and modelling data from the scene of an incident.

If a significant incident occurs, such as a chemical fire, explosion or release of gases, which could result in the release of airborne pollutants, SEPA’s field response team will be deployed. Once on site they will begin monitoring for potential harmful substances being released to the air. The information is relayed back to SEPA staff who collate and assess all the available data and provide this to Health Protection Scotland (HPS) for them to make a determination on the potential impact to human health.

SEPA will remain on-site until any significant threat has passed, providing appropriate ongoing monitoring to assess the impact of the incident on air quality.

The service is delivered by SEPA in partnership with HPS and the Fire and Rescue Service. Other partners include the Met Office, Police Scotland, Scottish Government, NHS Boards, Food Standards Agency, local authorities, the Health and Safety Executive and the Environment Agency.