What does Air Pollution mean for the Future of Diesel Cars?

Diesel cars should be quaking in their boots given the latest headlines about their connection to air pollution. Shockingly, London has not only breached its legal air pollution limit for 2017 just five days into the year, but scientists are also linking the main culprit traffic, and specifically diesel traffic, to 1 in 10 cases of dementia.

Are Diesel Cars to Blame for Air Pollution?

Air pollution comprises different substances, with one of the major primary pollutants being nitrogen dioxide, a member of the nitrogen oxide group. Nitrogen dioxide is implicated in both health and environmental concerns. In modern cities the primary source of nitrogen dioxide is diesel cars. In 2015, 5,900 deaths were attributed to nitrogen dioxide pollution, caused mainly by diesel vehicles. Overall 40% of local authorities in the UK experienced illegally high levels of nitrogen oxide air pollution in 2015 which equates to around 40,000 premature deaths per annum. These are shocking figures and need to be taken seriously.

The number of diesel cars, and therefore the amount of nitrogen dioxide air pollution, has boomed. This has been largely due to government policy creating a higher demand for diesel vehicles, and incentives for car manufacturers to make them. Diesel has even been, until fairly recently, billed as a greener option to traditional petrol vehicles. Tax laws dating from 2001 actively encouraged motorists to buy diesel. According to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, diesel has been outselling petrol cars since 2011 and a third of UK vehicles are now diesel.

Modern diesel cars produce a staggering 10 times more toxic air pollution than lorries or buses, mostly because the larger commercial vehicles are subject to more stringent testing. This has been compounded further by the ‘dieselgate’ scandal whereby car giant VW installed devices to ‘cheat’ emissions tests.

What is the Problem with Nitrogen Oxide from Diesel Cars?

London smog

Air pollution from diesel cars centres on their high emissions of nitrogen dioxide. Environmentally, nitrogen dioxide is the cause of modern day ‘smog’ and is the baddie behind acid rain. It can also restrict plant growth and may be a reason behind eutrophication, the rapid growth of green algae that reduces oxygen in water supplies.

There is also a very real cost of the air pollution caused by diesel cars in the form of both adult and child health. Most fundamentally, air pollution is a significant factor in respiratory problems, as it inflames the lungs and airways. The results can be reduced immunity and susceptibility to infection.

The CEO of the British Lung Foundation, Penny Woods, has stated: “The mix of these toxic air pollution levels... pose a serious risk to people with lung conditions and can affect all of our health.” There may also be a causal relationship between air pollution and an increase in allergic reactions due to inhaled pollens, as well as cardiovascular problems.

What Does This Mean For The Future of Diesel Cars?

A much tougher stance on diesel cars needs to be made. Whilst the country is facing fines from the EU over the recent breaches on legal levels of air pollution, this doesn’t seem to be enough. Friends of the Earth and other environmental campaigners are pushing for diesel to be banned by 2025. There also needs to be increased pressure on the government to act with greater urgency to change the current state of play. Beyond ‘clear air zones’ in city centres, there needs to be a drive towards non-diesel cars, and other methods of greener transportation.

The latest headlines could herald an end to diesel cars, in combination with the ‘dieselgate’ scandal, and pressure for the use of greener vehicles. As more and more successful electric and hybrid vehicles are released on the market, the consumer is given more choice. However, education is also important. Motorists need to come to understand the true cost of their vehicles, not just how much they pay in road tax and fuel, but also the hidden costs on our health and environment.

Spread the Word!