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38,000 Die Prematurely from Diesel Emissions

by John Brian Shannon

According to research recently published in the scientific journal Nature, “The consequences of excess diesel NOx emissions for public health are striking,” and responsible for 38,000 annual, premature deaths (globally) due to heart and lung disease and strokes.

But wait! It gets worse. By 2040 that number might increase to 174,000 — and that’s if every diesel vehicle conforms to 2017 emissions standards.

Most of the deaths occur in Europe where diesel cars are popular and are the primary source of particulate matter (soot) and oxides of nitrogen (NOx).

In China and India the proportion of diesel cars and trucks differs and emission standards are lower, consequently, diesel trucks are the largest contributors to particulate and NOx emissions.

“This rigorous study highlights the serious consequences which have resulted directly from the irresponsible actions of the motor manufacturers. [But] …it may well underestimate the full consequences for public health [and the] premature deaths from NOx could be 10 times higher than those from exhaust emissions of particles.” — Professor Roy Harrison, environmental health expert at University of Birmingham

Due to strict emission standards that were enacted since 1999, diesel engines built in 2017 (and the diesel fuel itself) are orders of magnitude cleaner than in the pre-2017 timeframe.

Yet, in the absence of incredibly strict diesel vehicle emissions standards for the future many more people could die prematurely from diesel-fueled vehicle exhaust due to a number of related factors. The huge baby boom demographic in Western nations show an increasing trend to higher rates of respiratory illness as they age, for one example.

Read the report: Impacts and mitigation of excess diesel-related NOx emissions in 11 major vehicle markets (Nature)

No matter who wins the UK June 8th election there are really only three choices on this file — four choices, if you include ‘Doing Nothing’ which really isn’t an option for a responsible government.

  1. Ban all diesel fuel sales in the UK by 2020. Yes, this would cause a paradigm shift in vehicle engine choices — and result in mass sales of used diesel engine vehicles to the continent before diesel vehicles are banned.
  2. Ban the use of diesel fuel for motive power within all UK cities. But not the carrying of diesel fuel because some vehicles are diesel/electric and can be switched manually between diesel and electric mode.
  3. Ban the use of diesel fuel for motive power in UK cities with more than 1 million residents. Pollution levels are noticeably higher in major centres, smaller cities may notice a daytime spike, followed by an evening clearing of the noxious emissions.
  4. Do nothing. At this point, even considering such a plan is beyond irresponsible, now that the facts are coming out and each new study on the subject turns out to be more incriminating (for diesel emissions) than the one that preceded it.

Certainly it will take some effort by the government. But in this case, there simply isn’t any alternative. Something must be done to save the lives of thousands of Britons annually.

Past 2020, more UK citizens will be dying prematurely from air pollution annually, than were dying during The Blitz annually — but with no end in sight if new regulations aren’t quickly legislated.

The payoff is that the NHS will begin saving hundreds of thousands of pounds per month even in the first year — and every subsequent year will improve on those stats. And UK citizens and non-citizen residents will live healthier, happier, and more productive lives.

I respectfully urge the Prime Minister to make it a priority. Lives are at stake!