Air pollution is linked to the early deaths of over 4,000 Londoners a year. It’s time to get serious about traffic reduction

I have spent more than a decade being told that air pollution is getting better and everything will be okay. Now, the scientists are about to tell everyone who will listen, that it just isn’t true.

Jenny Jones AM is leader of the Green Party on the London Assembly and Green Party Mayoral candidate for 2012

I have spent more than a decade being told that air pollution is getting better and everything will be okay. Now, the scientists are about to tell everyone who will listen, that it just isn’t true.

During my time at City Hall I have learnt that air pollution is linked to the early deaths of over 4,000 Londoners a year; that heart attacks increase during air pollution episodes; that exposure as a child can lead to long term problems as adults with under-developed lungs and a huge increase in cases of asthma and other respiratory problems.

Air pollution is a public health disaster on an industrial scale, but it is played down by government ministers and many health professionals on the basis that it is being sorted out. Well, a draft report from Kings College in London indicates that Plan A for reducing nitrogen oxides has failed and I am painfully aware that neither the London Mayor nor the Government, have an immediate Plan B.

The government probably commissioned the King’s research to back their argument that the EU is to blame for the failure of air pollution to improve. The draft findings support the conclusion that Euro standards have broadly failed to bring about the improvements expected from diesel cars in emissions of NOX and NO2. The number of diesel vehicles has grown rapidly in London and now makes up nearly a quarter of all the cars on our roads. These low CC vehicles have been good for climate change as they emit less CO2, but bad for air pollution.

Serious health risks

Recent research has shown that over 90 per cent of London’s NO2 came from the combustion of the diesel and the World Health Organisation have concluded that diesel fumes were definitely a cause of cancer. I questioned Boris Johnson last September about removing exemptions from the congestion charge from vehicles that benefited the climate, but which caused considerable localised pollution.

He reviewed his Greener Vehicle Discount scheme and this week announced that he would introduce an Ultra Low Emission Discount to be introduced on 1 July 2013, which according to TfL, only vehicles that are either pure electric or emit 75 grams of CO2 (g/km) or less and meet the Euro emission standard for air quality will quality for the discount. London is only going to promote vehicles that reduce both the climate change and air pollution emissions.

We will have to see what impact the changes to the congestion charge will have on the vehicles people purchase, but it has strengthened the case for including an air quality element into the Vehicle Excise Duty (VED). In July 2010 sales of new diesel vehicles outstripped petrol cars for the first time in the UK, with London figures showing a rise from 6.9 per cent of the vehicle fleet in 2000 to 21.7 per cent in 2011. The VED based on emissions of CO2 effectively encouraged the purchase of diesel cars as they tended to have lower levels than petrol equivalents, as did the previous congestion charge Greener Vehicle Discount scheme.

Why have Euro standards failed to bring about the improvements expected from diesel cars in emissions of NOx and NO2? The finger of blame is pointed at car manufacturers manipulating the test to how thirsty and dirty their cars are and ineffective enforcement process. For example, a study which compared real world and official CO2 tests data showed, year by year, the disparity grew between the two from a 7 per cent spread in 2001 to 23 per cent in 2011.

Higher standards are needed

The mayor and government must press the EU for urgent robust vehicle approval processes and testing standard that reflect urban driving conditions, as opposed to those derived from laboratory conditions or based on drive cycles. At the same time resisting car manufacturers powerful lobbying to water down effective processes and delays.

The government’s and Boris Johnson’s record on NO2 would be dismal if it completely relied upon the techno fixes which they have advocated as their key policies. However the rise in polluting diesel vehicles has been cancelled out partly by the 10 per cent decline in overall traffic.

The European Union set legally binding standards on Nitrogen Dioxide a pollutant considered to be harmful to human health and the environment, with strong links to respiratory conditions such as emphysema, bronchitis and heart disease, the degradation of sensitive habitats and deterioration of biodiversity. The EU limit value for annual mean NO2 has been in place since 1999, with the UK missing its first compliance date in 2010, then not applying for a deadline to 2015.

This complacency made worse by the government’s admission that London is unlikely to comply until 2025.

It should be pointed out that the problem of particulates has declined, although the change has been slow and it still has a terrible impact on health in areas like inner London. The technical fix has made a difference, but the Kings report highlights some hard choices which need to be made about older taxis and tightening up the enforcement of the Low Emission Zone.

The government and Boris Johnson needs a complete root and branch rethink on air quality. Building new roads that encourage more cars is a silly idea and spending £43m on planning and promoting a road river crossings whilst traffic has fallen by 10 per cent is simply ridiculous.

Any future policies and spending must be based on robust evidence, and proper enforcement, not on assumptions or car manufacturer interests. It must also urgently examine and address the drift to dieselisation and get serious about traffic reduction.

9 Responses to “Air pollution is linked to the early deaths of over 4,000 Londoners a year. It’s time to get serious about traffic reduction”

  1. SadButMadLad

    Thank you for showing that more people die from car exhaust pollution than 2nd hand smoke and fumes from smokers.

    When people try and de-humanise those smoking as they walk along pavements they are ignoring the elephant in the road – that of air pollution. And when they do the same as people smoke in their gardens (having now been banished from their home because of you have to think of the chiiildreeen) they ignore the elephant in the garden – that of smoke from BBQs.

  2. Stephen

    Manipulation of the test could be a reason why NOx hasn’t decreased, but NO2 isn’t even measured at all during the type approval test. Some NO2 is generated photochemically from NO in the atmosphere but the reactions are rather complicated and dependent upon concentrations of other pollutant species in the atmosphere, some which can increase or decrease NO2. There are also other sources than vehicles.

  3. Stephen

    Manipulation of the test could be a reason why NOx hasn’t decreased, but NO2 isn’t even measured at all during the type approval test. Some NO2 is generated photochemically from NO in the atmosphere but the reactions are rather complicated and dependent upon concentrations of other pollutant species in the atmosphere, some which can increase or decrease NO2. There are also other sources than vehicles.

  4. Neiall Mullery

    Diesel is bad. BUT petrol although being ignored by most still contains carcinogens. here is WIKIPEDIA >Gasoline>SAFETY>TOXICITY …….

    Toxicity

    The material safety data sheet for unleaded gasoline shows at least 15 hazardous chemicals occurring in various amounts, including benzene (up to 5% by volume), toluene (up to 35% by volume), naphthalene (up to 1% by volume), trimethylbenzene (up to 7% by volume), methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE) (up to 18% by volume, in some states) and about ten others.[19] Hydrocarbons in gasoline generally exhibit low acute toxicities, with LD50 of 700 – 2700 mg/kg for simple aromatic compounds.[20] Benzene and many antiknocking additives are carcinogenic.

    Special attention needs to be paid by government and the mayor, when ELECTRIC VEHICLE AND PETROL HYBRIDS ARE GIVEN THE GREENWASH TREATMENT. This hybrid needs to have a NON FOSSIL hydrogen option. The manufacturers are still getting the ”green light” to produce toxic fuelled vehicles with NO CLEAN ALTERNATIVE.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Petrol

  5. Neiall Mullery

    Jenny Jones & Darren Johnson, please point the scathing nature of my post at the correct individual(s)

    my main problem is, that by using #DIESEL PARTICULATE FILTERS (for
    example) as a crutch for emissions, and using the manufacturers vehicle
    test data as the Holy Grail,and claiming the age of any vehicle as proof
    of emissions, means any progression of technology has to bypass the
    manufacturers and the (woefully badly designed) statute of government.

    Thereby, an ignorance, a very poor standard is AUTHORISED, LEGITIMSED, .

    Thorough
    Vehicle Exhaust testing at a local level must be finally, given the
    importance it deserves, a TOXICITY of actual exhaust components. A test
    for the ENTIRE composition of chemicals exiting the vehicle.

    This
    is a standard of honesty. Further questions must be asked of council
    vehicles, buses and taxis, but mainly of the red tape, and bureaucratic
    web, confining hundreds of thousands of polluting vehicles from a
    worthy, and grass roots style solution.

    How have 7000 deemed
    buses’ emissions (with no further emissions reduction) been deemed
    appropriate for the life of vehicle??? is there a solution this year???
    Next year??

    How many more thousands of tonnes of carcinogens are
    to be given grace, by having no incentives provided by authorities ,to
    make testing on new (exhaust reducing) devices a priority,

    why
    not take the bull by the horns and initiate a FIT & TEST week, where
    devices capable of reducing emissions are fitted to working buses where
    testing is achieved during normal operations? on a tight budget, this
    coulc easily be achieved. Open the door and give small businesses a
    chance to florish within the rules and giving London the chance to
    breathe a little easier.

    what would the testing equipment provide that current regulations hide??

    FACTS, and a clearer market, after all there is PLENTY OF ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT.

  6. Neiall Mullery

    HERE IS A RECENT PAGE THAT I SENT TO Fiona Hall MEP WHO HAD SAID

    “Overall the car industry is responding positively to EU fuel efficiency standards, driving down fuel costs for consumers and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. C02 emissions from new cars in the UK fell by 5.2% in 2012 and across Europe, manufacturers are
    expected to meet the new emission targets well before 2020. That’s why it is
    time to look ahead and introduce new targets for 2025 to allow the industry to
    plan their direction of travel.”

    Fiona, there are several factors here that should not be allowed to continue, or infact remain unquestioned by yourself or colleagues responsible for the overall Air Quality of everyone in Europe.

    #Establish a Database of AVAILABLE Fuel saving and Emissions reducing techniques
    (FSAERT) an awareness of market products must be enforced.

    # Examine the manufacturers’ research into the variety of (FSAERT) they have tried, which patents they own, (and currently have shelved) in an effort to prove their collaboration in wasting fossil fuel and designing an environmental, criminal negligence into their engines.

    #Impose a system where Manufacturers, by Law, can only release/sell a vehicle once a thorough testing of (FSAERT) has been shown and that each vehicle is capable of being as efficient and clean as possible. Every vehicle must have an pre-programmed ECU (Engine Control Unit) with every (FSAERT) tested as standard . Cleaner fuel options must also be imposed on manufacturers, where even Electric/Petrol Hybrids must be given a NON Fossiloption as standard (making them TRIbrids).

    #HYDROGEN #METHANE #ETHANOL #HHO(OXYHYDROGEN) #CNG #LPG
    ===================================================================

  7. Neiall Mullery

    Dear Jenny Jones and Darren Johnson, please point the scathing nature of my post
    at the correct individual(s)

    So my main problem is, that by using #DIESEL PARTICULATE FILTERS (for example)
    as a crutch for emissions, and using the manufacturers vehicle test data as the
    Holy Grail,and claiming the age of any vehicle as proof of emissions, means any
    progression of technology has to bypass the manufacturers and the (woefully
    badly designed) statute of government.

    Thereby, an ignorance, a very poor standard of Air Quality s AUTHORISED, LEGITIMSED, .

    Thorough Vehicle Exhaust testing at a local level must be finally, given the
    importance it deserves, a TOXICITY of actual exhaust components. A test for the
    ENTIRE composition of chemicals exiting the vehicle.

    This is a standard of honesty. Further questions must be asked of council
    vehicles, buses and taxis, but mainly of the red tape, and bureaucratic web,
    confining hundreds of thousands of polluting vehicles from a worthy, and grass
    roots style solution.

    How have 7000 buses’ emissions (with no further emissions reduction)
    been deemed appropriate for the life of vehicle??? is there a solution this
    year??? Next year??

    How many more thousands of tonnes of carcinogens are to be given grace, by
    having no incentives provided by authorities ,to make testing on new (exhaust
    reducing) devices a priority,

    why not take the bull by the horns and initiate a FIT
    & TEST week, where devices capable of reducing emissions are fitted to
    working buses where testing is achieved during normal operations? on a tight
    budget, this coulc easily be achieved. Open the door and give small businesses
    a chance to florish within the rules and giving London
    the chance to breathe a little easier.

    what would the testing equipment provide that current regulations hide??

    the real-time FACTS, and a clearer market, after all there is PLENTY OF ROOM
    FOR IMPROVEMENT.

  8. Neiall Mullery

    3 big comments below

  9. Cole

    The death figures appear to be 4,000 a year in London and 29,000 nationwide. But we probably won’t hear the right wing tabloids getting very excited about this, in spite of the Supreme Court verdict yesterday.

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