By Per Liljas
28 May 2014
(TIME) – An E.U.-mandated shift to diesel cars has sent London's NO2 emissions through the roof. "It's a public-health catastrophe," says one prominent campaigner
A European Union–wide shift to diesel, in order to curb CO2 emissions, has sent London’s nitrogen dioxide levels through the roof, Bloomberg reports. Not only are they the worst in Europe, reaching twice the E.U. limit, they also surpass the Chinese capital’s by a whopping 50%. [more]
By Alex Morales
27 May 2014
(Bloomberg) – London has a dirty secret.
Levels of the harmful air pollutant nitrogen dioxide at a city-center monitoring station are the highest in Europe. Concentrations are greater even than in Beijing, where expatriates have dubbed the city’s smog the “airpocalypse.”
It’s the law of unintended consequences at work. European Union efforts to fight climate change favored diesel fuel over gasoline because it emits less carbon dioxide, or CO2. However, diesel’s contaminants have swamped benefits from measures that include a toll drivers pay to enter central London, a thriving bike-hire program and growing public-transport network.
“Successive governments knew more than 10 years ago that diesel was producing all these harmful pollutants, but they myopically plowed on with their CO2 agenda,” said Simon Birkett, founder of Clean Air in London, a nonprofit group. “It’s been a catastrophe for air pollution, and that’s not too strong a word. It’s a public-health catastrophe.”
Tiny particles called PM2.5s probably killed 3,389 people in London in 2010, the government agency Public Health England said in April. Like nitrogen dioxide, or NO2, they come from diesel combustion. Because the pollutants are found together, it’s hard to identify deaths attributable only to NO2, said Jeremy Langrish, a clinical lecturer in cardiology at the University of Edinburgh.
“Exposure to air pollution is associated with increases in deaths from cardiovascular disease such as heart attacks and strokes,” Langrish said. “It’s associated with respiratory problems like asthma.”
The World Health Organization says NO2 can inflame the airways and worsen bronchitis in children.
London isn’t alone in having bad air in Europe, where 301 sites breached the EU’s NO2 limits in 2012, including seven in the British capital. Paris, Rome, Athens, Madrid, Brussels and Berlin also had places that exceeded the ceiling. The second and third-worst sites among 1,513 monitoring stations were both in Stuttgart after London’s Marylebone Road.
“Nitrogen dioxide is a problem that you get in all big cities with a lot of traffic,” said Alberto Gonzalez Ortiz, project manager for air quality at the European Environment Agency, which is based in Copenhagen. “In many cases it’s gotten worse because of the new fleets of diesel cars.”
The EU limits NO2 to a maximum of 40 micrograms per cubic meter of air. The concentration on Marylebone Road, a stone’s throw from Regent’s Park, was almost 94 micrograms in 2012, according to the most recent data from the EEA.
The level for the site last year was 81 micrograms, and it’s averaging 83 micrograms this year, according to King’s College London. In 1998, when the King’s College data begins, it was 92. That’s about the time the switch to diesel started.In contrast, Beijing had a concentration of 56 micrograms last year, according to China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection. The Chinese capital has a worse problem with other pollutants, registering almost triple the level of PM10 particles (bigger than PM2.5s) as on Marylebone Road. [more]