POLLUTION levels in the centre of Musselburgh fell to zero last weekend as the positive impact of lockdown on the environment was laid bare.

The Scottish Air Quality website, which monitors pollution in Musselburgh, recorded no nitrogen dioxide present in the air between 11pm on Saturday and 8am on Sunday.

In the same weekend last year, 26 micrograms per cubic metre (ug/m3) of nitrogen dioxide were recorded at 11pm on the corresponding Saturday, dropping gradually to a low of 4 ug/m3 at 6am and rising to 11 ug/m3 by 8am.

The impact of traffic in the town on air quality is marked by a peak pollution level recorded last week of 16 ug/m3 (Wednesday, May 13 at 4pm). During the same week last year, it peaked at 56 ug/m3 ( Tuesday, May 14, 2019, at 6pm).

The level of particle matters PM10 also fell below recording status with a low of 3 ug/m3 last Tuesday (May 12). Musselburgh MSP Colin Beattie said the impact of lockdown on pol-lution in the town showed it is possible to reduce it permanently.

He said: “It has been a truly unique time that led to this drop in NO2 and PM10 and the circumstances that have led to these reductions have been difficult for everyone.

“It has been our duty to stay home and save lives, which means we are not making those car journeys that lead to these higher emissions.

“But this has proven the point that it is possible to significantly lower our emissions when we are only making journeys that are absolutely essential and think more about how and when we travel. “Although the circumstances of lockdown are in no way sustainable, it has shown that with a shift in our thinking we can substantially reduce our carbon footprint and tackle climate change. We all have choices we when it comes to transport, and it is important that we try, where we can, to use options where less emissions are produced.”

At no point during the same week last year did the levels recorded fall to zero, but this week at midnight on Sunday it had fallen to zero for a second night.

Musselburgh was declared an Air Quality Management Area seven years ago amid concern about high levels of Nitrogen Dioxide caused by heavy traffic through the centre of town.

Councillor Norman Hampshire, East Lothian Council’s environment spokesman, said: “We know from national measurements that the current lockdown measures in place to control the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in a dramatic drop in road traffic. As it’s well established that road traffic is the main source of oxides of nitrogen (NOx) within urban areas these levels have reduced with resulting air quality improvement.

“East Lothian Council has already identified a number of measures to tackle air pollution concerns particularly within the Air Quality Management Area in Musselburgh which will include the development of greater opportunities for active travel including walking and cycling.”

Ward councillor John Williamson hoped people would consider alternative transport methods in future.

He said: “Here in Musselburgh there is the stark contrast of pre-lockdown air quality readings of 56 compared with zero last weekend due to less vehicle use.

“One positive which will hopefully emerge post-lockdown is that individuals will have realised that they do not need to use cars all the time – there may be more people working from home on a permanent basis, others may have discovered other ways to get about as witnessed by the increasing numbers of cyclists. Something that I hope will continue post lockdown.”

Fellow ward councillor Stuart Currie added: “I think what this demonstrates is that we simply cannot go back to where we were in terms of congestion and pollution. When the local development plan was voted through it was on the basis that measures could be taken to mitigate the massive increase in traffic that everyone knew would happen. We need to find a way to ensure that, when we get back to a time or whatever normality looks like, we put public transport front and centre of the strategy to move large numbers of commuters out of cars on our roads each day.”