Government urged to restrict use of cars as report says air pollution causes 30,000 premature deaths a year

Authors call for shift in transport policy, Sustrans says people being "posioned" by neighbours' exhaust fumes

by Simon_MacMichael   April 12, 2014  

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Sustrans says the government must take immediate action to restrict the use of cars in Britain’s cities to stop people dying prematurely due to being “poisoned” by the exhaust fumes of their neighbours’ cars.

The sustainable transport charity issued its call after a government report breaking results down by area, found that nearly 30,000 people a year die in the UK as a result of air pollution, reducing average life expectancy by six months.

The reports authors say the focus of transport policies must shift from motor vehicles to cycling and walking to cut emissions and improve the nation’s health.

Called Estimating Local Mortality Burdens associated with Particulate Air Pollution, it was published by Public Health England (PHE), and breaks down the number of deaths attributable to particulate air pollution by local authority area.

According to the report, in some London boroughs such as Barnet and Bromley, more than 8 per cent of deaths – one in 12 – result from air pollution, falling to around 2.5 per cent in rural areas of Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Dr Sotiris Vardoulakis, PHE’s head of air pollution and climate change, said: “Much outdoor air pollution comes from burning fuels to generate heat and electricity, and from vehicles.

“Measures that significantly reduce particulate air pollution or cut exposure would be regarded as important public health initiatives.”

His colleague, Dr Paul Cosford, who is PHE’s director of health protection and medical director, said a change in emphasis of transport policy to encourage walking and cycling rather than driving would cut total vehicle emissions and particulate air pollution.

“If this could be achieved in towns and cities, then we could expect local improvements in air quality,” he said. “There would also be health benefits from increased physical activity through walking and cycling.

“Local authorities could also consider other measures to improve air quality, such as implementing low emission strategies as well as the appropriate design of green spaces.”

The estimates in the report address long-term exposure to air pollution, rather than short-term episodes such as the smog that descended on London and other parts of the country last week.

However, PHE adds: “Short-term exposure to high levels of air pollution can cause a range of adverse health effects including exacerbation of asthma, effects on lung function, increases in hospital admissions and mortality.”

Philip Insall, health director at sustainable transport charity Sustrans, said: "Past months have brought shocking news on air quality in the UK, with the government facing action in the European court over its failure to address pollution.

"This new report shows the impact in terms of lives lost, broken down to local authority area. It would be unfair to pick out any one council, because all are equally shamed by these figures, but a typical city saw 200 deaths and more than 2,000 life years lost in 2010, because we are just not tackling air pollution.

"If the water in our taps were causing this many deaths, the government response would be immediate. So why are we not - as some European cities already do - acting to restrict motor vehicle use in the most polluted areas?

“It cannot be acceptable that in the 21st century, we are still being poisoned by the toxic gases coming out of our neighbours' exhaust pipes."

How motorists should be discouraged from driving in a bid to cut emissions is the subject of some debate.

Last month, the French capital, Paris, banned some vehicles on specific days after air pollution reached dangerous levels.

On some days, only vehicles with a registration number ending with an odd number were allowed to circulate, on other days, ones that had an even number.

But experience of cities elsewhere has cast doubt over the effectiveness of what are termed “licence plate bans,” since some motorists get round them by buying an older, cheaper –and often, more polluting – vehicle for the days when their usual car is banned.

Examples of cities that have introduced such bans include Athens and Beijing, as well as Mexico City, which introduced a one-day-a-week ban in 1989, reports the Guardian.

Initially, carbon monoxide levels fell by 11 per cent, but as people began acquiring second cars, the long-term impact has been that they have risen by 13 per cent.

Some believe that Low Emission Zones (LEZs), the first of which was launched in Stockholm, Sweden in 1996, with London phasing its version in between 2008 and 2012, are a better option.

Under such schemes, vehicles that do not meet European emission standards on particulate matter are charged for entering the zone, with enforcement in the British capital carried out by Automatic Number Plate Reading (ANPR) cameras.

Lucy Sadler, who runs the website Low Emission Zones in Europe, told the newspaper: "Certainly, in terms of comparison between low emission zones and odd-and-even number plate schemes, it's a no-brainer.

"There is lots of good evidence saying low emission zones have a good impact on air quality and health. That's robust and well researched."

But Ben Barratt of the Environmental Research Group at King’s College London, believes the best way to cut emissions lies in using a combination of LEZs and central congestion charging zones, similar to the one in place in London since 2003.

He told the Guardian: "You have to take the vehicles off the road, rather than just try and make them cleaner.

“So something like congestion charging, where you've got a marked decrease in the number of vehicles on the road, is preferable to something where you've got the same number of vehicles, [even if] those are cleaner."

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Quote:
You have to take the vehicles off the road, rather than just try and make them cleaner

Hope he just meant: you have to take motor vehicles off the road, and bicycle would be the kind of vehicle they would encourage to leave on it.

posted by louear [7 posts]
12th April 2014 - 19:46

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"But road tax and the duty on petrol us drivers have to pay more than covers for any damage done."
Liar

I'd recently read the excellent "Traffic" by Tom Vanderbilt.
Key theme was that the presence of huge traffic jams is evidence that it is TOO CHEAP for cars to use the road.
Folk will sit in traffic jam for an hour and a half as despite the damage they are doing; it is still their preferred & cheapest option.

Congestion charging makes it less cheap and therefore a less preferred option.

It's not popular though, as for most people take the car whenever possible. That’s the problem.

posted by paulmcmillan [78 posts]
12th April 2014 - 23:39

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For how motorists do NOT pay for the costs they incur, see references in here http://rdrf.org.uk/2014/03/22/the-silence-over-osbornes-hand-out-to-moto...

posted by ChairRDRF [120 posts]
12th April 2014 - 23:54

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How many cyclists die early due to breathing in pollution in the air ?
Has there been a study on this lately ?

Surely the risk for cyclists breathing hard and deeply is greater than those more sedentary

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posted by Rupert [83 posts]
13th April 2014 - 5:43

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ChairRDRF wrote:
For how motorists do NOT pay for the costs they incur, see references in here http://rdrf.org.uk/2014/03/22/the-silence-over-osbornes-hand-out-to-motoring/

Be very careful what you wish for. If you push up the cost of fuel for car drivers then you push up the cost of fuel for everything else.

There is nothing, and I do mean nothing, that you own or use that does not involve a lorry somewhere in its manufacture or delivery. If you put the cost of fuel up you put the cost of everything else up. When I started in haulage fuel was a quarter of my costs, when I left it was a half. Hauliers can't just keep absorbing the price rises in diesel. Successive governments have made all sorts of noises about essential user rebates but to date nothing has come about.

If that doesn't get you thinking how about this? "Hello, you are through to the Emergency Services. We are sorry but we are unable to attend as we are overspent. Please ring again in the new financial year. Thank you."

Far fetched? How many Ambulance Services in this country are over budget?

A better solution would be the scrapping of catalytic converters and a move to lean-burn engines. Catalytic converters don't work until they are up to operating temperature and cars around town never get their exhausts up to operating temperature. Instead of cleaning up a dirty engine make the engine cleaner in the first place. Hydrogen fuel cells would of course be the best solution for cars but like electric engines you do have a pollution displacement.

In the nineties there was a report out that stated that 85% of London's pollution was caused by 15% of its cars.

posted by levermonkey [361 posts]
13th April 2014 - 6:38

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Rupert wrote:
How many cyclists die early due to breathing in pollution in the air ?
Has there been a study on this lately ?

Surely the risk for cyclists breathing hard and deeply is greater than those more sedentary

No! Studies show that the benefits of cycling outweigh the risks and car drivers are exposed to far higher levels and for longer. Nerd

Jeremy Clarkson would point out that your healthy lungs filter out the pollution for the benefit of car drivers. Devil

posted by levermonkey [361 posts]
13th April 2014 - 6:44

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We'll never kill the sacred cow, I mean car.

I'd accept the price of what I buy going up if it meant pricing some cars off the road.

In this country we have the same myopia to cars that the Americans have to guns. The answer is always more of them will make everything better, dispute all the evidence to the contrary.

Dispute what the daily mail would have you believe motoring is way to cheap.

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posted by Housecathst [49 posts]
13th April 2014 - 7:07

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levermonkey wrote:
ChairRDRF wrote:
For how motorists do NOT pay for the costs they incur, see references in here http://rdrf.org.uk/2014/03/22/the-silence-over-osbornes-hand-out-to-motoring/

Be very careful what you wish for. If you push up the cost of fuel for car drivers then you push up the cost of fuel for everything else.

There is nothing, and I do mean nothing, that you own or use that does not involve a lorry somewhere in its manufacture or delivery. If you put the cost of fuel up you put the cost of everything else up.

I entirely agree one needs to be aware of this. But that cost exists, regardless of whether its acknowledged or not. It doesn't magically disappear just because one ignores it when doing the accounts!

Are you really suggesting the apocryphal ostrich approach actually works? That we can get things for free by just looking the other way and agreeing not to record the cost?

On the contrary, I would say. If the cost is properly charged to those who create the cost (including all of 'us' if we order something delivered by road), then its likely to _improve_ efficiency, as people are given the information and the incentive necessary to try and reduce those costs, as they are no longer hidden. Not accounting for the these sorts of costs encourages decisions that are individually rational but collectively irrational.

Though, yes - if this is what you are saying, 'cos its not clear - it's quite possible a blanket tax on fuel use might not be the best way, as it's emissions that are the cost one wants to reduce (in this part of the argument - it's not the only cost), not raw fuel consumption, and the relation between the two presumably can be variable.

And if ambulances produce lots of emissions, then that's really not a difficult one, acknowledge that and increase the funding for the ambulance service accordingly, because that's what running an ambulance service actually costs.

posted by FluffyKittenofT... [663 posts]
13th April 2014 - 7:38

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When I last checked, it was £10 per day for the congestion charge in London. It costs me that if I wanted to use public transport (which I don't).
There has to be a meaningful cost to get people out of cars as most regard it as a sunk cost. £10 per day will not do this and does not cover the cost of pollution and congestion.

posted by arfa [480 posts]
13th April 2014 - 8:00

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levermonkey wrote:
Rupert wrote:
How many cyclists die early due to breathing in pollution in the air ?
Has there been a study on this lately ?

Surely the risk for cyclists breathing hard and deeply is greater than those more sedentary

No! Studies show that the benefits of cycling outweigh the risks and car drivers are exposed to far higher levels and for longer. Nerd

Jeremy Clarkson would point out that your healthy lungs filter out the pollution for the benefit of car drivers. Devil

I can't find the link, but there was a study that found exactly that. Motorists receive a much higher dose of pollution compared to cyclists, for the simple reason they follow the exhaust of the car in front. The air conditioning and filters make little difference, whereas simply being to the side of the road does.

Obviously, any motorist who uses their horn against you whilst you are in primary is just concerned for your health, and wants to warn you about the bad air you may be breathing Laughing

posted by bikebot [490 posts]
13th April 2014 - 8:45

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There needs to be a multi pronged attack on private car ownership. Cars spend 90% to their time parked - what a waste of resources.
I was going to rant about how public transport needs to be easier, more frequent and essentially faster and direct than it currently is but lets face it, it always comes down to money. If public transport was a lot cheaper but with improved standards and car ownership and use cost more a major shift would occur.
While it costs 3 times more to take a bus or train than it is to drive nothing will change.

posted by Mart [98 posts]
13th April 2014 - 9:53

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Hauliers can't just keep absorbing the price rises in diesel.

Or what? Some go bust, and? Others pick up the slack.

If the price of diesel goes up enough, Something other than diesel would have to be used.

The main problem I see for a replacement of diesel is we haven't developed energy (electricity to ???) storage technologies enough, lithium is good for storing electricity but there simply isn't enough of it in the world.

posted by kie7077 [452 posts]
13th April 2014 - 12:30

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kie7077 wrote:

Hauliers can't just keep absorbing the price rises in diesel.

Or what? Some go bust, and? Others pick up the slack.

If the price of diesel goes up enough, Something other than diesel would have to be used.

The main problem I see for a replacement of diesel is we haven't developed energy (electricity to ???) storage technologies enough, lithium is good for storing electricity but there simply isn't enough of it in the world.

Hydrogen is the way to go with 'alternative' fuel. Or we find a different way to get the goods to where they're wanted. Much more should be made of the rail network and the canal network for transporting goods instead of using roads.

posted by teaboy [150 posts]
13th April 2014 - 12:39

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The real problem with newer, ostensibly more efficient, cars is that if you factor in the overall emissions created from mine to forcourt the "pollution break even points" often lie beyond the expected product lifecycle, creating profit without any overall reduction in overall emissions.

In fact, the solution doesn't really involve cars at all. What is required is a socal housing program sufficiently comprehensive to largely eliminate the financial incentive to commuting, and to also dramatically reduce dual income reqirement.

Rather than make it more expensive to drive, it's far better to eliminate the need to drive in the first place.

"Hey..... Let's be visible out there."

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posted by Neil753 [451 posts]
13th April 2014 - 13:35

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kie7077 wrote:

Hauliers can't just keep absorbing the price rises in diesel.

Or what? Some go bust, and? Others pick up the slack.

If the price of diesel goes up enough, Something other than diesel would have to be used.

The main problem I see for a replacement of diesel is we haven't developed energy (electricity to ???) storage technologies enough, lithium is good for storing electricity but there simply isn't enough of it in the world.

It's a tricky one Kie, but we simply can't price our industry out by just endlessly raising the duty on diesel. EU law allows foreign trucks to enter the UK and handle internal shipments around the country, displacing our own industry, and forcing you and me as tax payers to pick up the tab in the form of unemployment benefits or tax credits, the ever increasing cost of diesel theft to the police budget, and the knock on effect of increased prices in the shops. Many foreign trucks have twin diesel tanks, holding a total of 2,000 litres of nice cheap continental diesel, sufficient to work extensively in the UK but without ever having to fill up at a UK pump.

Ultimately, we all need to think about where stuff comes from, and try to consume less of it. I was hauling Californian apples from the docks the other day which, with our apple growing climate here in the UK, is totally bonkers when you think about it.

"Hey..... Let's be visible out there."

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posted by Neil753 [451 posts]
13th April 2014 - 14:01

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Neil753 wrote:

It's a tricky one Kie, but we simply can't price our industry out by just endlessly raising the duty on diesel. EU law allows foreign trucks to enter the UK and handle internal shipments around the country, displacing our own industry, and forcing you and me as tax payers to pick up the tab in the form of unemployment benefits or tax credits, the ever increasing cost of diesel theft to the police budget, and the knock on effect of increased prices in the shops. Many foreign trucks have twin diesel tanks, holding a total of 2,000 litres of nice cheap continental diesel, sufficient to work extensively in the UK but without ever having to fill up at a UK pump.

I was wondering about that issue. It does seem a major problem. Its why it would be preferable, ideally, to somehow charge for the emissions themselves, rather than taxing the fuel. If it could somehow be done that way round, charging on the basis of where the crap is emitted rather than where the fuel is put in, EU rules would, as far as I understand it, not prevent foreign lorries from being charged on a level playing field with our own (Or we could just quit the EU, but that's a whole other argument!)

posted by FluffyKittenofT... [663 posts]
13th April 2014 - 14:20

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Our affluence is based on a fossil fuel economy, which saw the light in the UK with the development of the coal powered steam engine. The UK and the US hold the questionable record on historically accumulated CO2 (the most common green house gas, produced by burning fossil fuels) pollution, although China and India are eager to overtake them.

The most sinister long term effect of CO2 accumulation in the atmosphere is not even global warming, but ocean acidification which will sniff out sealife and by extension life on Earth. The oceans will eventually recover -they recovered before- a million years hence, and without us. The effects of acidification will already play out in our children's life. We must therefore defossilize our economies fast and go full electric, whereby electricity is generated by solar and distasteful nuclear.

Promoting cycling and the use of pedelecs makes us feel good and actually makes us better, but are mere small solutions to a very big problem. Yes, Sustrans is right to ring the alarm bell, but actually what we need now is a stampede verging on panic for the exit door.

Just a thought whislt browsing through cycling blogs.

The entropy of the universe increases constantly. Carpe diem.

posted by noether [51 posts]
14th April 2014 - 21:42

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Carbon emissions and pollution aren't the central issue however much people have been brainwahsed to think that it is. There will always be greener/leaner technical solutions around the corner to curtail whatever the enviornmental benchmarks may be. Indeed cars are too cheap to operate and many people are able to support such a lifestyle when it comes to their personal transportation. The notion of a vehicle (car) is so ingrained in most peoples' minds the world over, that it's inconceivable for the masses to think any differently about transportation. People aren't the only aspects of the envionment affected by vehicle pollution. The envionment is an entire ecosystem extending beyond humankind or Motorists.

posted by dogcc [104 posts]
15th April 2014 - 21:07

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Neil753 wrote:
the ever increasing cost of diesel theft to the police budget, and the knock on effect of increased prices in the shops. Many foreign trucks have twin diesel tanks, holding a total of 2,000 litres of nice cheap continental diesel, sufficient to work extensively in the UK but without ever having to fill up at a UK pump.

I give you there are diesel price differences, but 'cheap' isn't what I'd call it:

http://www.drive-alive.co.uk/fuel_prices_europe.html

Unless of course every haulier fills up in Luxembourg (still only 40 Euro cents cheaper per liter, about 30%) or there are rebates for the haulage industry?

What do you mean by cost of diesel theft for police budgets? Do you mean it's common enough to use up a significant amount of police resources? If so, good that they actually investigate some things... though it'd be better if people getting hurt or killed got prio sometimes rather than property.

posted by jacknorell [341 posts]
15th April 2014 - 22:35

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paulmcmillan wrote:
"But road tax and the duty on petrol us drivers have to pay more than covers for any damage done."
Liar

I'd recently read the excellent "Traffic" by Tom Vanderbilt.
Key theme was that the presence of huge traffic jams is evidence that it is TOO CHEAP for cars to use the road.
Folk will sit in traffic jam for an hour and a half as despite the damage they are doing; it is still their preferred & cheapest option.

Congestion charging makes it less cheap and therefore a less preferred option.

It's not popular though, as for most people take the car whenever possible. That’s the problem.

I have to say that if I were not biking it into central London, I'd be in a car. The Great Railways Rip-Off has given us a train 'service' that is run for shareholders. The welfare state for the rich is still very much a fact of life, and until the British get off our knees, it won't change.

'It is well enough that people of the nation do not understand our banking and monetary system, for if they did, I believe there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning' (Henry Ford)

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posted by cyclingDMlondon [211 posts]
28th April 2014 - 15:15

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