Diesel car emissions is linked to almost 40,000 premature deaths a year
Air pollution from diesel vehicles contributes to thousands of unreported deaths, scientists have now reported.
Excessive nitrogen oxide found in exhaust emissions can be linked to 38,000 premature deaths worldwide, revealed new research.
This is on top of the 3.7million deaths, the World Health Organisation estimates is cause by outdoor air pollution.
US scientists have argued that there is not enough awareness of ‘real world’ vehicle air pollution and the affects it has on the human body.
It’s not just NOx, which can damage lung tissue, it’s the way it reacts with other chemicals in the environment.
Atmospheric chemicals react with NOx to produce ground-level ozone and ultra-fine particles, both of which are harmful.
Ozone can be linked to respiratory issues. It can irritate the airways and aggravate lung diseases such as asthma and bronchitis.
The effects of particles produced in emissions on the human body was tested recently by a group of UK scientists, revealing how they can penetrate the heart and potentially cause a stroke.
The consequences of excess diesel NOx emissions for public health are striking
According to the study published in the journals Nature, diesel vehicles around the world produce 4.5million tonnes more NOx than they should do under international emission standards.
Lorries, buses and heavy duty vehicles were identified as the major culprits.
Study co-author Dr Susan Anenberg, from the consultancy firm Environmental Health Analytics LLC, said: “The consequences of excess diesel NOx emissions for public health are striking.”
The team, which included scientists from the University of Colorado at Boulder (UC Boulder) and the US non-profit organisation the International Council on Clean Transportation, analysed data from 30 studies of vehicle emissions under real-world driving conditions around the world.
In 2015, vehicles generated 13.1 million tonnes of NOx in the 11 major markets studied.
Scientists say, however, that if the emissions had met the testing standards imposed in those markers, the amount of NOx produced would have been closer to 8.6 million tonnes.
Europe in particular were strongly affected by the emissions, as diesel vehicles are more common.
Here, 11,500 of the 28,500 deaths each year attributed to diesel NOx pollution were linked to excess emissions.
Dr Daven Henze, from UC Boulder, said the research exposed a much bigger issue than Volkswagen’s notorious use of “defeat device” sensors that automatically reduce the pollution emissions of vehicles undergoing tests.
“A lot of attention has been paid to defeat devices, but our work emphasises the existence of a much larger problem,” he said.
“It shows that in addition to tightening emissions standards, we need to be attaining the standards that already exist in real-world driving conditions.”
Dr Henze’s team used computer modelling and satellite date to simulate the affects of NOx pollution on health, crops and the climate.
Particles emitted by diesel cars can penetrate the lungs and heart
Worryingly, the scientists predict that in 23 years time diesel vehicles around the world will be causing around 183,600 premature deaths each year unless serious action is taken to curb their emissions.
Enforcing more stringent emission limits could prevent 174,000 deaths related to fine particles and ozone in 2040, said the researchers.
Dr Anenberg added: “Tighter vehicle emission standards coupled with measures to improve real-world compliance could prevent hundreds of thousands of early deaths from air pollution-related diseases each year.”
British expert Roy Harrison, Professor of Environmental Health at the University of Birmingham, said: “This is a rigorous study which highlights the serious consequences which have resulted directly from the irresponsible actions of the motor manufacturers in producing vehicles which meet regulatory requirements under test conditions, but emit far higher pollutant levels during on-road use.
“The study may well underestimate the full consequences for public health as it quantifies only the effects of particulate matter and ozone formed in the atmosphere as a result of excess nitrogen oxides emissions, but not the direct effects of the oxides of nitrogen themselves.”