Long-Term Illness and Pollution Linked in New Study

Several studies that link air pollution to chronic health conditions have been conducted over the years. A new one came out in December 2022 in the UK. What makes this study different is its scope – the largest across the world so far. 

The team from King’s College London, composed of Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience researchers, involved over 360,000 respondents belonging to the age bracket of 40 to 69 years, and their data were extracted in 2010 from the UK Biobank. Data was focused on chronic ailments, specifically five mental and 36 physical health conditions. Researchers analysed this information with the air pollution concentration in the participants’ area of residence.

What the study’s findings indicated was clear – air pollution is linked with long-term illnesses. Links were strongest with ailments related to mental conditions, neurological health, cardiovascular issues, and respiratory illnesses. 

Participants were individuals with multiple health issues and increased NO2 (nitrogen dioxide) and PM2.5 (fine particulate matter) exposure. The study’s senior author Dr. Ioannis Bakolis of the IoPPN said there is proof that air particulates may trigger immune activation, oxidative stress, and inflammation. This, in turn, affects the lungs, heart, gut, blood, and brain.

The health conditions arising from exposure to high levels of air pollution can cause life-changing impacts. These also greatly affect the UK’s healthcare system and economic situation. 

Dr. Bakolis said the study’s findings provide the government with the opportunity to create environmental policies and programs aimed at reducing air pollution. The ULEZ (Ultra-Low Emission Zone) and CAZs (Clean Air Zones) are already in place but more action is needed, especially in areas identified as hotspots. 

It is also vital to keep the past in mind, particularly events that affected air quality. This provides authorities with data that can help them understand how air pollution can lead to a lifetime of illnesses. 

The best example of such an event is the Great Smog of London, which happened from 5 December to 9 December 1952. London, including its indoor areas, was smothered by very thick smog that reduced people’s visibility and affected respiratory health. Approximately 4,000 lost their lives and 100,000 developed respiratory tract infections. Reports released years later suggested a higher number of fatalities, with the estimates falling between 10,000 and 12,000 early deaths.

Survivors of the traumatic event were the subject of a 2016 study that revealed a 20% vulnerability to asthma, and an increase of 10% in their adult years. Researchers specifically studied survivors aged below one year at the time of The Great Smog. 

The UK’s 2040 target

The World Health Organization has an air quality guideline. The UK government recently announced that it will follow the 2005 guidelines, which means their target year for reducing/eliminating particle pollution is 2040. This is 17 years from now, quite a long wait.  Meanwhile, more people will be exposed to particle pollution, and this leads to higher probability of them developing various chronic illnesses.

The two types of particulate matter (PM2.5, PM10) that are concerning are tiny so they can easily get into the lungs and penetrate their cells. Aside from irritating the lungs, throat, nose, and eyes, they also contribute to respiratory illnesses and cardiovascular disease. Particle pollution is primarily emitted by diesel-powered vehicles.

Diesel emissions

Diesel vehicle emissions are toxic and significantly contribute to air pollution. The diesel emissions scandal, popularly known as Dieselgate, is proof of this.

Dieselgate erupted in September 2015 after the Volkswagen Group was notified by US authorities that they violated emissions regulations. Environmental agencies accused the carmaker of equipping their Audi and VW diesel vehicles with defeat devices that are used to control emissions while being tested.

The device senses when a vehicle is already in the lab and being tested, so it immediately reduces emissions to match the legal limits. The vehicle may appear clean and safe but this state is only possible when the defeat device is capping emissions. Once it is taken out and driven on real-life roads, it emits dangerous amounts of nitrogen oxide (NOx). 

NOx is highly reactive and contains nitric oxide (NO) and NO2. It contributes to the formation of smog, acid rain, and ground-level ozone. 

More importantly, NOx emissions can lead to multiple health impacts, most notably:

  • Mental health issues (anxiety and depression)
  • Weakened cognitive health
  • Asthma
  • COPD
  • Cancer
  • Cardiovascular ailments
  • Premature death

Volkswagen exposed drivers – and the public – to these chronic illnesses because they prioritised profit over safety. They were ordered to pay fines and recall all affected vehicles.

French carmaker Renault was also accused of installing cheat devices in their diesel vehicles. Like VW, they had to recall all the affected vehicles and pay fines. 

Filing a diesel claim is the best advice authorities can give to affected drivers.  Renault emission claims have also been brought to the courts, allowing affected drivers to receive compensation for the inconveniences they have been going through. 

Aside from VW and Renault, many other carmakers have been accused of using defeat devices. 

Am I qualified to file my diesel claim?

Any affected driver can file a diesel claim. It is your right as a customer to hold the manufacturer responsible for an illegal act they committed. If you win, you will be compensated, the amount of which depends on the details of your case.

To make sure that you are qualified, visit Emissions.co.uk, where you’ll get all the information you need to start legal action against your carmaker.

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