OVER 3,500 Scots are killed every year by toxic fumes belched from millions of vehicle exhausts, it has been revealed.
New figures from the UK Government estimate for the first time the number of deaths blamed on nitrogen dioxide gas and tiny sooty particles.
Taken together, these boost the number of annual deaths across the whole of the UK from 29,000 to over 50,000.
And environmentalists estimate this translates to roughly 3,500 deaths a year in Scotland – almost double the previous estimate of 2,000.
Concerned experts have said the government have a “deadly problem” on their hands, and have attacked proposals to tackle the issue as “incomplete, vague and lacklustre”.
Air pollution from cars, vans, buses and lorries can trigger heart attacks, strokes and can cause infections.
The emissions aggravate lung diseases, and can worsen the suffering of hundreds of thousands of people with asthma.
Friends of the Earth Scotland, who analysed recent figures in a recent government report, has described the evidence as a “public health disaster”.
Campaigner Emilia Hannah said: “This new evidence is truly shocking, hugely alarming and demonstrates that air pollution is a major public health disaster.
“If it emerged that thousands of people were dying every year from disease, crime or drugs, the Government would be pouring millions of pounds into saving lives and fixing the cause.
“The public deserves more than vague promises and assurances that our air will be clean.”
Medical experts backed the call for tougher action to cut toxic emissions.
James Cant, director of British Heart Foundation Scotland, said: “This is a deadly problem and the Government has so far failed to fulfil its duty to protect public health by making sure we breathe safe.
“We hope this is the beginning of quick and effective action to tackle the issue.”
Earlier this year, it was revealed that nitrogen dioxide safety limits had been breached on 23 urban streets across Scotland in 2014.
They included busy roads in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen.
The Scottish Government has suggested that nitrogen dioxide emissions have fallen by 67% since 1990, but accept that further progress is required.
A spokeswoman said: “Following a consultation earlier this year on a low emission strategy we are working with partners such as local authorities and Transport Scotland to finalise the strategy for publication later this year.
“This will draw together in one place a range of existing and additional actions which will support delivery of further improvements in air quality.”