All of the information collected has in some way or another measured the impact that car emissions have on health. Through interviews with scientists we were able to understand what these studies mean and the impacts that car emissions can have on our health.
A WARNING FROM THE EEA
One of the most virtuous warriors again environmental pollution are the scientists and academics working for the European Environmental Agency. Without a doubt the most important institution covering the environmental impact of European policies in the European Region. It comes to no surprise that its last report in 2016 – Air quality in Europe is considered a fundamental document to understand the complexities of the damage caused by Diesel car emmissions. The mantra remained the same: “effective action to reduce the impacts of air pollution requires a good understanding of its causes”. This report illustrates how pollutants are transported and transformed in the atmosphere, and how they affects humans, ecosystems and the climate.
Lets look at the numbers: exposure to Pm2.5 contentrations in 2013 was responsible for about 467 000 premature deaths originating from long-term exposure, while O2 and No2 were responsible for 71 000 and 17 000 respectively. With no significant changes shown over the year there is the likelihood that this will not be remedied and be repeated in the future. This was revealed by Julia Gogolewska, senior coal policy officer at the “Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL).
However policies being adopted provide a positive outlook. The policies adopted are effective and delivering improvements however are not enough to deal with the serious effects that we are facing.
“Emission reductions have led to improvements in air quality in Europe, but not enough to avoid unacceptable damage to human health and the environment. We need to tackle the root causes of air pollution, which calls for a fundamental and innovative transformation of our mobility, energy and food systems” says the EEa executive director Hans Bruyninckx.
The automobile sector is the most controversial point, contributing to the exposure of many European cities exceeding European standards and, even more importantly, World Health Organisation (WHO) Air Quality Guidelines. These standards are grounded on studies about human health response to noxious factor, therefore living in an area where these limits are not respected means that your life is at risk. Leading us to the question is your neighborhood safe?
To contextualise the overall reduction seen in recent years for all car emitted pollutants, we interviewed Jens Borken – scientist at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IAASA).
“About the future there will be significantly lower premature deaths because emissions from all other sources are going down and we are pretty sure that emissions from Nox will also go down. The real question is: will they go down very much or less significantly?” Jens Borken said.
Looking back at the numbers:”real world emissions is currently in the order of 800/900 mg/km of Nox for Euro 5 cars. What we see from the latest measurements is that emissions will likely go down of 300 mg by 2020 regardless of legislation restrictions. So the expectations are that they’ll go down even further due to the enforcement of the EU limits We can only expect this to continue decreasing “, keeps saying the scientist Borken.
The scandal is all about timing, this is because the emissions could have been reduced earlier. And with a lack of feasible technical reason why emissions should go down just by 2020. Industries and legislators have kicked into the distance the restriction legislation.
Experts have produced a table where you can link the level of current pollutants emitted and premature deaths linked to these pollutants. In the produced tables you can calculate how many pollutants have been emitted according to where you live. For example in Italy – throughout 2013 – 91 050 premature deaths have occurred attributable to PM2.5, NO2 and O3, topping the list of the countries. Other automobile markets are not faring any better. France reached a total of 55 130 premature deaths at the end of the year, while Germany stands at 86 510 deaths – slightly under the Italian record.
Data shows that we can blame car industries for these worrying results. Almost all cars on the road have emissions well beyond EU limits, with some brands worst than others. All of this is documented in the EU Sport & Environment report. Fiat and Suzuki vehicles pollute 15 times more than the legal Nox limit; Renault-Nissan with an avarage of 14 times with the most efficient of vehicles polluting 10 times over the limits. The irony is that Volkswagen diesel cars, at the center of attention, are polluting “just” twice as much the EU limits for Euro 6 standards. A living paradox where a twofold figure in excess seem to have become a successful result. The sad reality is that 19 million diesel cars and vans are driving EU roads, even though we would label them as “dirty”.
THE MIT APPROACH
A study was carried out by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology looking at Volkswagen’s home base, examining the health impact of the 2.6 million cars sold in Germany under Volkswagen Group’s brands VW, Audi, Skoda, and Seat. The researchers estimate that 1,200 people in Europe will experience premature death, each losing up to a decade of their life as a result of excess emissions generated between 2008 and 2015 by affected cars sold in Germany. Of these premature deaths, 500 will likely occur in Germany, meaning that more than 60 percent of premature deaths stemming from German-sold cars will occur in neighboring countries; most notably Poland, France, and the Czech Republic.
Additionally if all the cars can be modified by the end of 2017 to emit no more Nox than permitted under the Euro 5 standard, this would prevent an additional 2,600 premature deaths over the upcoming decades. All these lives are pending upon the inaction of the government, that could prevent the situation.
WHAT THE ICCT HAS DISCOVERED
A nature study examined 11 major vehicle markets representing more than 80% of new diesel vehicle sales in 2015 (Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, the EU, India, Japan, Mexico, Russia, South Korea, and the U.S.) Results found that those vehicles emitted 13.1 million tons of NOx under driving conditions—that’s 4.6 million tons more than the 8.6 million tons expected given the vehicles’ performance under official laboratory tests
Thanks to this study we can have a diesel emission approximation worldwide. We can now find estimations not only for the difference between real world and laboratory emissions but also the impact of these emissions on health. Thanks to 30 studies carried out worldwide, coupled with existing model estimates it was possible to derive new estimates of what diesel engines are producing in the real world – the so called the emissions inventory. This is an estimation of what total tons emissions were 2015 and new projections for 2040.
Moreover, it helped us to understand how these vehicles are changing the air that we breath and the ensuing health impact. In 2015 an estimated 108 000 premature death are occurring consequently. Almost a third of these, around 30 000 are attributable to the excess. As Peter Mock – coordination of International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) activities in Europe – said “In the Nature study it came out that 30.000 people have died last year because of diesel NOx emissions and this is just because car manufacturers didn’t meet the limits. If car manufacturers did meet the limits, those people wouldn’t have died”. The largest impact is principally located in three markets: India, China and Europe; combining those three you have almost 80% of the total impact. Therefore illustrating how the same phenomenons taking place on a local scale are then reflected globally.
The most interesting findings were regarding emissions and where they come from. Trucks and buses contribute a large portion of diesel emissions.Through the interview with Ray Minjares, Clean Air Program Lead at The International Council on Clean Transportation, we found out that these vehicles are responsible for ¾ of excess Nox emissions globally. This new discovery can help jump start an organic policy towards a reduction of vehicle emissions of all kinds. Trucks and buses are of seminal importance in determining the level of pollution, no effective solution can be found if not grounded into this new assumption.
Ray Minjares in our interview presents Europe as a special case: “There is something very unique in Europe. We found that there Diesel car are responsible for the excess, not truck and buses. Europe alone is responsible for 60% of emissions in Diesel car globally. Europe has a problem with all diesel vehicles”.
According to Francesco Forestieri, member of the European Respiratory Society, the methodology applied to the studies. This in turn calculates the health impact of the Nox emissions when transformed into PM (particular matter) – brings results that underestimate the real impact. We should therefore be aware of this when looking at these results.
In conclusion, let’s remember the hopeful words from Ray Minjares: “Looking into the future we found that we could, through good policies, I argue eliminate this form of pollution correcting those regions who haven’t implemented or designed rules to control car pollution, especially Europe and India. Those region can take further step that is the adoption of a emission light duty vehicles programme”.