London Urged to Become “Diesel-Free City” to Protect Children

With toxic air a pressing and predominant issue, the future seems to be quite hazy for our children.

Air pollution has become a global problem. Its impact on the environment and human health has affected thousands – maybe even millions – of individuals and families across the world. The effects are felt anywhere and by people of any age. The most vulnerable groups, of course, are the seniors and children. 

In the UK, a grassroots organisation was formed in 2017 to deal with issues and come up with projects and campaigns to raise awareness of air pollution. The group was created by mums who got together while they were on maternity leave. While walking their babies along somewhere in South London, the mums discovered how high the levels of air pollution were in the area. This prompted them to form the organisation.

The group is calling on authorities and the government to work towards a diesel-free city to lessen air pollution and its impact on children’s health. 

London has high levels of NO2 or nitrogen dioxide, a dangerous pollutant. Even after the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020, where people stayed home and the roads were empty, air pollution levels still exceeded the limits. Most of the NO2 pollution came from road transport, particularly diesel-powered vehicles.

The group’s findings indicate that NO2 levels were highest in Brixton Road, Lambeth with 60mg/m3, followed by Putney High Street with 58mg/m3 and Hanger Lane, with air pollution levels at 51mg/m3. All three areas exceeded the 40mg/m3 legal limit.

Five of the risky areas are located in the new boundary (on its outer edge) or in the outer London area – Morden, Kingston, Crooked Billet, and Ikea. Strand and Walbrook Wharf are two of the sites that are located within the ULEZ or Ultra-Low Emissions Zone, while eight are situated within the ULEZ expanded zone.

Of the 15 locations monitored, nine are situated in or adjacent to Red Routes, which refer to road networks that Transport for London manages.

Data that detail how high air pollution levels are was collected by EDF Europe or the Environmental Defense Fund Europe. The group used the city’s air pollution monitors, which were located in strategic areas across London. Elizabeth Fonseca, EDF Europe’s senior air quality manager, said that children in London will continue to breathe toxic air as they grow up if the NO2 levels continue to exceed legal limits.

What is the ULEZ?

Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, initiated the ULEZ, which are zones or areas where vehicles that do not meet emissions standards are not allowed to enter. The program’s purpose is to reduce the levels of NOx or nitrogen oxide and carbon dioxide emissions. It also intends to lessen the number of highly polluting vehicles driving through the city.

Mayor Sadiq recently announced the expansion of the ULEZ to several areas that are not yet protected by the program. By 2023, the ULEZ will be implemented throughout London.

Nitrogen oxide and its effects on the environment and children

NOx or nitrogen oxide is the gas that diesel vehicles release. Its most significant components are nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and nitric oxide (NO). It is a catalyst for acid rain and smog and is essential in the production of ground-level ozone.

Ground-level ozone has negative effects on vegetation. It makes plants and crops weak and more susceptible to damage and frost. Exposure to the said pollutant will also stop the growth of plants and crops.

A child exposed to NOx emissions will almost always experience negative effects on their health. The most common ones are headaches, difficulty in breathing, nausea and vomiting, respiratory issues such as emphysema and bronchitis, and asthma. 

If the exposure is more constant and at high levels, the effects can be severe: asphyxiation, lung function reduction, laryngospasm (also known as spasm of the vocal cords), cardiovascular diseases, and certain cancers.

In some cases, exposure to high levels of NOx emissions can lead to early death. 

Diesel emissions 

As mentioned earlier, nitrogen oxide is emitted by diesel vehicles. This became a major issue in 2015 when the Dieselgate scandal involving the Volkswagen Group first broke. US authorities found defeat devices installed in Audi and VW diesel vehicles that were sold to American consumers. 

Defeat devices are able to detect when a vehicle goes into testing. When they do, they reduce emissions levels using artificial means so these fall below the threshold the World Health Organization (WHO) set.

However, once the vehicles are out on the real roads, the devices revert to their default settings, which results in  the vehicles they are installed in releasing considerable amounts of NOx emissions, at levels that violate WHO and EU regulations. Thus, the vehicle is a pollutant; it’s not clean or safe as VW claimed it to be.

After VW, other manufacturers were implicated in the scandal, including Mercedes-Benz. 

The Mercedes emission scandal started a few years after the Dieselgate scandal, and US Mercedes owners filed the first class-action lawsuit in 2016. In the UK, the first group litigation for diesel emissions claim was in 2020.

Compensation claims

If you have a Mercedes diesel vehicle, you may be qualified to make a Mercedes emissions claim for the environmental, financial, emotional, and health-related inconvenience the defeat device has caused you. Get in touch with to verify your eligibility.

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