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Protect Children by Becoming Diesel-Free, London Told

Parents in the UK are urging the government to take a more serious stand on air pollution issues and consider the fact that toxic air significantly affects the development and health of children. As members of a grassroots organisation created by parents who want to raise awareness of air pollution, the group is asking the government to speed up its goal of turning London into a diesel-free city. 

According to one parent, air pollution levels remained high even during the height of the pandemic, when COVID-19 restrictions were still in effect. The roads were almost empty for several months but many areas in London still had illegal levels of polluted air. 

The group’s graffiti art campaign was featured in The Big Issue last year. The campaign was created to grab the attention of and put pressure on the Mayor of London so he would step up the government’s efforts in protecting disadvantaged areas and reducing air pollution levels. Their art featured nursery rhymes that carried messages about the dangers of toxic air.

Their next campaign used stencils that had giant arrows pointing to the number 15 – the number of air quality monitors that recorded the city’s illegal nitrogen dioxide or NO2 levels. The stencils show how London has once again failed to meet regulatory NO2 levels. Environmental Defense Fund Europe (EDF) senior air quality manager Elizabeth Fonseca warned the public of what this means for kids. Breathing in NO2 has adverse consequences on a person’s health, especially for children.

London’s monitoring sites are only a peep into the bigger picture. A large part of the city is covered in thick clouds of pollution. Emission levels are way above the EU and WHO legal limits. Areas outside of the expanded ULEZ or Ultra-Low Emission Zones are also highly polluted. Some communities may be at greater risk if the government does not step up its campaign and get into action.

Diesel emissions and The Dieselgate Scandal

Diesel engines used to be favoured over petrol because they were thought to be more environmentally safe. This notion has changed, though.

In an analysis that EDF Europe published towards the end of 2020, diesel vehicles were identified as a major contributor to nitrogen dioxide pollution, particularly in areas situated near primary schools. The majority of the highly toxic sites are found outside the ULEZ, areas in London where high-emission vehicles cannot enter unless they pay a fee. 

The Dieselgate scandal in 2015 also contributed significantly to how car owners and industry experts now view diesel engines. 

In September of that year, defeat devices intended to manipulate emissions were found in Volkswagen and Audi diesel vehicles sold in the US. Authorities sent the Volkswagen Group a notice and the carmaker has had to accept the consequences of their actions. 

A few years later, Mercedes-Benz received a notice from the same US authorities in relation to allegations of defeat device use in their diesel vehicles. The carmaker has denied the accusations time and again but like VW, they cooperate with authorities.

Defeat devices are illegal because they hide the real volume of nitrogen oxide (NOx) a vehicle emits. They automatically detect when a vehicle is in testing so they can temporarily suppress emissions levels to within the WHO-regulated limits. The vehicle may appear safe and clean but once it gets driven on real roads, its real emission levels revert to their original settings and the vehicle spews out considerable amounts of NOx. 

These amounts are at least four times in excess of EU and WHO limits. 

VW, Mercedes, and all the other carmakers that have potentially used the defeat devices deceived their customers when they marketed and sold their diesel vehicles as fuel-efficient. In reality, every diesel-powered car or van with a defeat device is a pollutant. 

NOx emissions are life-threatening

Aside from polluting the environment and endangering plants, crops, and other ecosystems, nitrogen oxide emissions can also seriously impact human health. 

NOx, which has nitric oxide (NO) and NO2 as primary components, is responsible for polluting the air with smog and acid rain. It also reacts with other chemicals to produce ground-level ozone, which can stunt the growth of plants and crops. NOx also makes plants and crops weaker, making them more susceptible to frost and damage. 

Constant exposure to nitrogen oxide emissions also has an effect on a person’s mental health. It can trigger episodes of depression and anxiety. In certain cases, cognitive function is affected, which often leads to Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia.

The health impacts on a person exposed to (low or high levels) of NOx emissions vary accordingly, but the most common ones include:

  • Asthma and respiratory diseases such as bronchitis and emphysema
  • Lungs are covered by fluid
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Asphyxia
  • Vocal cords spasm (laryngospasm)
  • Cardiovascular diseases
  • Chronic reduction of lung function
  • Premature death

Children are the most vulnerable to these impacts, so affected car owners are urged to take legal action against their carmakers.

Making a diesel claim

If you have a Mercedes and suspect that it is equipped with a defeat device, bring your carmaker to court by making a diesel claim. Before starting the process, though, you should visit Emissions.co.uk so you can verify your eligibility to make an emissions claim.

Truett Jones

The author Truett Jones