London breaches air pollution limit for all 2017

By: Oliver Tickell

Days into the 2017 pollution limits on the Brixton Road in Lambeth, South London, has already breached EU pollution limits for NO2 for the entire year. Meanwhile UK sales of diesel cars – one of the main causes of NO2 pollution – reached record levels in 2016, reflecting the government’s failure to tackle the problem in spite of numerous court orders.

One the 6th day the 2017 parts of London have already breached their pollution limits for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) for the entire year.

Yesterday pollution monitors on the busy Brixton Road, Lambeth, registered NO2 levels above 200 micrograms of NO2 per cubic metre from 7am through until 1am this morning, a total of 18 hours – reaching the EU time limit for the entire year.

Later this morning, between 5am and 7am, another two hours of readings above 200 ug/m3 of NO2 were recorded – pushing the site well above the EU limit.

ClientEarth lawyer and Brixton resident Alan Andrews – a member of the legal team that has won a succession of legal actions against the government for its failure to abide by EU pollution laws – said:

“This is another shameful reminder of the severity of London’s air pollution and shows why the Mayor has rightly made tackling it a top priority. It is absolutely essential that he now delivers on his promises and that the national government back him to the hilt.

“He has promised to introduce a bigger ultra-low emission zone in 2019 and to deploy the cleanest buses on the most polluted roads. While these are vital steps in the right direction, we can’t wait another three years for action. We need immediate action to cut pollution in the short-term and protect Londoners’ health during these pollution spikes.”

A number of other London locations, including Putney High Street and Brompton Road in Knightsbridge, are expected to breach this limit shortly. Last year, Putney High Street breached this limit more than 1,000 times.

The principal culprit – diesel vehicles

The main reason for the high pollution levels on these busy roads is pollution from cars, buses, trucks and motorbikes – and diesel vehicles make by far the biggest contribution as their engines operate at higher temperatures than petrol engines causing nitrogen and oxygen in the air to react, producing a cocktail of nitrogen oxides (generically NOx) including the irritant gas NO2.

Friends of the Earth is among those calling for urgent action to tackle air pollution which it says causes almost 10,000 premature deaths in the capital every year. Jenny Bates, FoE’s Air Pollution Campaigner, said: “With the new year only days old, it’s scandalous that air pollution limits for the entire year have already been breached.

“Air pollution is a major health threat, particularly to children and other vulnerable people, contributing to around 40,000 early deaths across the UK every year. Road traffic is the biggest culprit – and diesel is the worst. This is why the government must take much bolder and quicker action including planning to phase out diesel by 2025.”

The environmental campaign group is calling for much stronger and quicker action from the government to meet EU legal limits in the shortest time possible including:

  • Plan for the phase out of diesel vehicles by 2025 as part of a 21st Century Clean Air Act
  • Expand London’s Ultra-Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) for all vehicles across the whole of the capital, and many more and stronger Clean Air Zones (CAZ’s) across the rest of the country
  • Invest more in cycling and public transport to give people better alternatives to driving, and don’t allow road-building to add to the problem

The group’s petition calling for urgent action government action on air pollution is currently receiving dozens of signatures every minute.

Diesel cars now account for 47.7% of new registrations

But in spite of the pollution caused by diesel vehicles and the scandal surrounding VW’s ‘test-cheating’ software designed to artifically reduce pollution emissions under test conditions, sales of new diesel cars reached their highest level in the UK ever, according to data from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.

In 2016 1,285,160 new diesel powered cars were sold, up from 1,276,871 in 2015. Market share declined by 0.6% however this was countered by a 2.3% increase in overall new car sales. This reflects the fact that the government has failed to act to reduce the attractiveness of diesel cars to consumers.

Paul Morozzo, clean air campaigner at Greenpeace, said: “Despite growing concerns about the health impacts of diesel fumes, the government has done almost nothing to tackle car companies since they were caught cheating emissions tests.

“In London new rules will mean new taxis and buses will from next year have to be hybrid or better but nothing is happening on diesel cars despite alternatives being readily available. Unbelievably, the government is still incentivising consumers to buy brand new diesel cars that are pumping out illegal levels of pollution.

“If cars coming off the production line had dodgy brakes, you know the government would step in to sort it out. We urgently need to stop the sale of new diesel models until emission testing is truly fit for purpose. Better still, we need car companies to phase out diesel completely and concentrate on hybrid and electric alternatives.”

The Greenpeace petition to the government had received over 86,000 signatures at time of writing.

Devastating health impact

In the past few months, doctors, health professionals and campaigners, have all spoken out about the devastating impact of air pollution on human health, especially for children, the elderly, asthma sufferers and other vulnerable groups. Air pollution can cause asthma in otherwise healthy children, stunts children’s lung growth permanently by up to 10%, and is linked to strokes, heart disease and diabetes in older people.

Only yesterday research was published in The Lancet showing a link between people’s proximity to busy roads and the incidence of dementia. The study, which followed 6.6 million people in Ontario, Canada, for over a decade, found that people who live closest to major traffic arteries were 12% more likely to be diagnosed with the disease.

In November 2016, the High Court in London ruled for the second time in 18 months that the government was not doing enough to combat the air pollution crisis. The judge also said ministers knew that over-optimistic pollution modelling was being used, based on flawed lab tests of diesel vehicles rather than actual emissions on the road. The government must now look again at proposals to bring pollution levels down to legal levels.

“While London has the worst air pollution, this is a national problem which requires a national solution”, commented Alan Andrews. “The government’s draft plans to tackle air pollution, as ordered by the High Court, are due in April. They must include a national network of clean air zones, which stop the dirtiest diesel vehicles entering pollution hotspots.

“They also have to stop the perverse fiscal incentives which encourage people to use diesel vehicles and instead help them to buy cleaner ones.” 



‘Standard’ diesel sulphur content not to cause job losses – UNEP

By: Pius Amihere Eduku,

The United Nations Environment Programme, (UNEP), has ruled out possible job losses in an attempt to reconfigure national refineries to meet acceptable standards for sulphur contents for diesel.

According to UNEP, adjusting refinery systems to produce quality diesel will rather increase efficiency and create more jobs.

“A lot of times when the refineries are upgrading, they are actually able to produce more products better products and maybe create more jobs so there will be no jobs that will be lost. If the refineries were closed, that’s when we would be talking about job losses,” the Programme Officer for the Transport Unit of UNEP, Jane Akumu told Citi Business News.

A recent publication by Swiss NGO, Public Eye, revealed that the lives of consumers of diesel in eight African countries including Ghana, were at risk over the high sulphur contents.

According to the survey, while Europe accepts about 10 ppm for sulphur in diesels, the lax in standards in some African countries have led to as much as 300 times sulphur content in imported diesel.

The NPA was subsequently compelled to review downwards the national specification from 3000 ppm to between 500 and 10 ppm.

Though the CEO of NPA, Moses Asaga had indicated a complete reduction to about 10ppm by the Tema Oil refinery will lead to massive job losses, the Programme Officer for the Transport Unit of UNEP, Jane Akumu rather believes it will be more prudent to consider the long term benefits.

“Refinery upgrade is going to cost a lot of money; so the companies need to come up with that kind of funding but the products will actually even be more that will be produced by the refineries,” she stated.

Madam Akumu who formerly worked with Kenya’s national oil refinery also cautioned that other countries will have no other option to shut down their refineries if they fail to implement strategies to upgrade their respective refineries.

“But one thing I always caution countries is that if they fail to upgrade their refineries, then they will be forced to shut them down because the world is moving to better fuels….this was the situation that forced Kenya to shut down its refinery as was experienced in Kenya after twenty years of calls for an upgrade of the country’s refinery,” Madam Akumu added.



300 million children breathe heavily toxic air: UNICEF

South Asia has the largest number of children, at about 620 million, living in areas with outdoor air so polluted it can cause serious physical damage, including harming their developing brains.  By Raveendran (AFP/File)

By: Jean-Louis Santini

Washington (AFP) – Some 300 million children live with outdoor air so polluted it can cause serious physical damage, including harming their developing brains, the United Nations said in a study released on Monday.

Nearly one child in seven around the globe breathes outdoor air that is at least six times dirtier than international guidelines, according to the study by the UN Children’s Fund, which called air pollution a leading factor in child mortality.

UNICEF published the study a week before the annual UN climate-change talks, with the upcoming round to be hosted by Morocco on November 7-18.

The agency, which promotes the rights and well-being of children, is pushing for world leaders to take urgent action to reduce air pollution in their countries.

“Air pollution is a major contributing factor in the deaths of around 600,000 children under five every year, and it threatens the lives and futures of millions more every day,” said Anthony Lake, executive director of UNICEF.

“Pollutants don’t only harm children’s developing lungs. They can actually cross the blood-brain barrier and permanently damage their developing brains and, thus, their futures. No society can afford to ignore air pollution,” Lake said.

UNICEF points to satellite imagery which it says confirms that about two billion children live in areas where outdoor air pollution exceeds minimum air-quality guidelines set by the World Health Organization.

The air is poisoned by vehicle emissions, fossil fuels, dust, burning waste and other airborne pollutants, it said.

South Asia has the largest number of children living in such areas at about 620 million, followed by Africa with 520 million and the East Asia and Pacific region with 450 million.

The study also looked at indoor air pollution, typically caused by burning coal and wood for cooking and heating.

Together, outdoor and indoor air pollution are directly linked to pneumonia and other respiratory diseases that account for almost one death in 10 in children under the age of five, making air pollution a leading danger to children’s health, UNICEF said.

The agency noted that children are more susceptible than adults to indoor and outdoor air pollution because their lungs, brains and immune systems are still developing and their respiratory tracts are more permeable.

The most vulnerable to illnesses caused by air pollution are children living in poverty, who tend to have poorer health and little access to health services.

UNICEF is calling for more robust measures to reduce pollution, increase children’s access to healthcare and to monitor and minimize children’s exposure to polluted air.



World’s largest study shows effects of long-term exposure to air pollution and traffic noise on blood pressure


By: European Society of Cardiology (ESC)

Long-term exposure to air pollution is linked to a greater incidence of high blood pressure, according to the largest study to investigate the effects of both air pollution and traffic noise by following over 41,000 people in five different countries for five to nine years.

The study, which is published October 25 in the European Heart Journal, found that among adults, up to one extra person per 100 people of the same age group living in the most polluted areas of cities would develop high blood pressure (hypertension) compared to those living in the less polluted areas. This risk is similar to the effect of being overweight with a body mass index (BMI) between 25-30 compared to people with normal weight (BMI 18.5-25). High blood pressure is the most important risk factor for premature illness and death.

This study is one of the first to investigate both air pollution and traffic noise simultaneously and it found that traffic noise is associated with an increase in cases of hypertension as well. The way the study was conducted enabled the researchers to estimate the risk that was linked to air pollution and the risk linked to noise separately. The association of air pollution with hypertension remained even when exposure to traffic noise was considered in the analysis. The researchers say this is an important finding because there are differing ways of reducing air pollution and noise.

A total of 41,072 people living in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany and Spain participated in the study, which was part of the “European Study of Cohorts for Air Pollution Effects” (ESCAPE) project that is investigating long-term effects of exposure to air pollution on human health in Europe. Information on blood pressure was gathered when the participants joined the study and during a follow-up examination in later years. None had hypertension when they joined the study, but during the follow-up period 6,207 people (15%) reported that they developed hypertension or started to take blood pressure-lowering medications.

Between 2008 and 2011, the researchers measured air pollution during three separate two-week periods (to allow for seasonal effects). They used filters to capture information on concentrations of polluting particles known as “particulate matter” (PM) of different sizes: PM10 (particles less than or equal to 10 microns [1] in diameter), PM2.5 (less than or equal to 2.5 microns), PMcoarse (PM10 minus PM2.5) and PM2.5 absorbance (a measurement of soot particles). These measurements were taken at 20 sites in each of the areas being studied, and measurements of nitrogen oxides were measured at 40 different sites in each area. Traffic density was assessed outside the homes of the participants and traffic noise was modelled according to the EU Directive on environmental noise.

The researchers found that for every five micrograms [2] per cubic metre (5 µg/m3) of PM2.5, the risk of hypertension increased by a fifth (22%) in people living in the most polluted areas compared to those in the least polluted areas. Higher soot concentrations also increased the risk.

For exposure to chronic traffic noise, the researchers found that people living in noisy streets, where there were average night time noise levels of 50 decibels, had a six percent increased risk of developing hypertension compared to those living on quieter streets where average noise levels were 40 decibels during the night.

Professor Barbara Hoffmann, Professor of Environmental Epidemiology at the Centre for Health and Society at Heinrich-Heine-University of Düsseldorf, Germany, who led the analysis, said: “Our findings show that long-term exposure to particulate air pollution is associated with a higher incidence of self-reported hypertension and with intake of anti-hypertensive medication. As virtually everybody is exposed to air pollution for all of their lives, this leads to a high number of hypertension cases, posing a great burden on the individual and on society.

“Exposure to traffic noise shares many of the same sources with air pollution and so has the potential to confound the estimates of the adverse effects of pollution on human health. However, this study controlled for traffic noise exposure and found that the associations of air pollution with hypertension did not vanish. This is important because preventive measures for air pollution and noise differ.

“One very important aspect is that these associations can be seen in people living well below current European air pollution standards. This means, the current legislation does not protect the European population adequately from adverse effects of air pollution. Given the ubiquitous presence of air pollution and the importance of hypertension as the most important risk factor for cardiovascular disease, these results have important public health consequences and call for more stringent air quality regulations.”

The study found there were higher average levels of pollution in the central and southern European study areas — Germany and Spain — than in the Scandinavian areas — Norway, Sweden and Denmark. Exposure to traffic noise and traffic load was highest in the study areas of Sweden and Spain.

The researchers say that it is possible that air pollution and noise affect different, or not completely overlapping, pathways involved in disturbances in the way the body normally functions. Possible biological mechanisms for the adverse effect of air pollution on the functioning of the heart and blood vessels include local and systemic inflammation, oxidative stress (a build-up of damaging molecules in the body), and an imbalance in correct functioning of the nervous system. Noise is thought to affect the functioning of both the nervous and hormonal systems.

[1] A micron is one millionth of a metre.

[2] A microgram is one millionth of a gram.



Volkswagen Agrees To $14.7 Billion Settlement In Emissions Cheating Scandal

By: Sonari Glinton

Nearly 500,000 dirty diesel vehicles could be taken off the roads under a settlement approved by a judge in the Volkswagen emissions cheating scandal. VW has agreed to pay up to $14.7 billion to resolve claims from consumers and the U.S. government. Customers will be compensated under a VW buyback program, and the company will also pay to offset the pollution caused by the rigged diesel vehicles.


A federal judge has approved a nearly $15 billion settlement between the carmaker Volkswagen and the U.S. government and consumers. Just over a year ago, VW admitted it installed software on its diesel vehicles that cheated on emissions tests. The company says it will begin buying back vehicles from customers next month. And it will pay to offset pollution caused by its dirty cars. NPR’s Sonari Glinton reports.

SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: To understand Volkswagen’s diesel settlement, you need to know that the company was intent on becoming the world’s No. 1 car brand. One of the ways to do that – capture the American market with diesel. Karl Brauer is with Kelley Blue Book.

KARL BRAUER: Really the heart of his problem was an extremely demanding management, you know, team that wanted something that really wasn’t possible. But the pressure to deliver was so high that those below them kind of felt they had to do something, even if it wasn’t necessarily the right thing, to keep management happy.

JAMES KOHM: Well, the lesson is don’t cheat, that (laughter) if you cheat, you’ll be caught. And the cost will be significant.

GLINTON: James Kohm is the associate director of enforcement at the Federal Trade Commission. He says VW is not out of the woods. It still has to settle on its 3-liter diesels. The EPA is still suing for civil penalties under the Clean Air Act. There are still cases pending in Europe. And he says…

KOHM: So at the end of this process, it is hard to see how Volkswagen would have any incentive to repeat this process that has been disastrous for them.

GLINTON: Customers get the value of the car before the scandal was announced plus money for the hassle. The company also settled with dealers in the U.S. David Uhlmann is law professor at the University of Michigan. He notes the speed that VW has settled this case – just over a year.

DAVID UHLMANN: Volkswagen paid top dollar to resolve the consumer claims. But what they got by paying top dollar was the ability to start moving beyond this crisis.

GLINTON: And they need to get this behind them because it is such a competitive and fast-changing market.

LAURA MACCLEERY: We’re absolutely on the brink of a major shift in how consumer products will work in general.

GLINTON: Laura MacCleery is with Consumer Union, the consumer advocacy group that started Consumer Reports. She says as products become more complex and cars start driving themselves, software matters.

MACCLEERY: Transparency around that is actually a matter of life and death. And so we need trust in auto makers and other product manufacturers now, more than ever. And we need to make sure that regulators aren’t caught unawares or, you know, deceived.

GLINTON: And a shout-out to my high school English teacher Mr. Kizelevicus for teaching me about irony ’cause I’m pretty sure this is it. Remember at the top of this story, I said that VW wanted to be the No. 1 car company in the world? Well, Karl Brauer with Kelley Blue Book says this year, it likely will be.

BRAUER: You can have a major issue in the U.S. market. But if you’ve got success in a market like China, it more than counteracts it. And you still end up as a global leader in terms of automotive sales and revenue.

GLINTON: Volkswagen says it will begin buying back diesel vehicles in mid-November. It comes out with a new SUV on Thursday. Sonari Glinton, NPR News.