The Freedom for Drivers Foundation has long argued that there is way too much scaremongering about the impact on people’s health of air pollution. We published a paper two years ago (see Reference 1 below) that in summary said that we believe it is not a major health crisis but simply a major health scare fed to a gullible public by a few politicians and by journalists wanting a story. We also criticised the relative contribution of vehicles to existing air pollution. Most air pollution arises from home and office heating, building and industrial activities and from home activities such as cooking and smoking.
Is there actually a public health crisis? The simple answer is NO. The evidence does not support such claims. In reality air quality has been steadily improving and will continue to do so from technical improvements to heating and vehicles. Meanwhile life expectancy has been increasing. There is no public health crisis!
The Covid-19 epidemic has given a great opportunity to see the likely impact of removing cars and other vehicles from the roads as businesses closed down and home working spread like wildfire.
The Daily Mail (see Reference 2) has reported on a study by Stirling University with the headlines: “Decline in vehicle use in lockdown had no impact on reducing toxic particle emissions and suggests traffic is ‘not a key contributor to air pollution” and “It found no significant fall in harmful toxic particulate matter – known as PM2.5” based on roadside measurements. That was despite a 65% fall in traffic.
Particulates are more dangerous than NOX and as people spent more time at home, they may have increased their exposure to them. But it is clear that removing vehicles from the roads does not cut particulate emissions. Although NO2 levels fell, which mainly come from transport, the Mail article suggests that might cut attributable deaths but in reality there is no certainty about the impact of NOX emissions on life expectancy and it may be a totally spurious claim.
We have also recently debunked the alleged claim linking asthma to NOX emissions. There are a number of possible causes for asthma and very poor air conditions (worse than generally experienced) can trigger or exacerbate attacks, but one has to be very careful about a specific linkage.
Life expectancy data tells us that there is no air pollution health crisis. But London boroughs such as Lewisham argue we have to remove vehicles from our streets as a matter of urgency – see Reference 5 for Lewisham air quality data.
A lot of published data on air quality and sources of air pollution are out of date as road transport has rapidly changed as vehicles are replaced. Less than 50% of air pollution in London now comes from vehicles and stopping private cars will have minimal impact as most vehicle emissions come from buses and goods vehicles.
Another problem is that much of London’s air pollution blows in from outside the metropolis. According to London Councils (see the report in Reference 6), 75% of particulates actually originate from elsewhere.
In summary, closing roads to reduce vehicles in London generally, and in boroughs such as Lewisham specifically, based on a claimed need to reduce vehicle emission makes no sense at the present time. The recent epidemic impact when vehicles were much reduced shows that there was nil or minimal impact on air quality so it would be a pointless exercise.
In reality the Low Traffic Neighbourhoods introduced in boroughs such as Lewisham has diverted traffic onto main roads and created more traffic congestion. It also means longer routes have to be driven and traffic piles up on residential roads (see photo of Horncastle Road above). Overall air quality has surely been made worse as is clear from residents’ comments on the impact. These “experiments” to cut traffic should be abandoned now!
Reference 1: Air Quality and Vehicles – The Truth: https://www.freedomfordrivers.org/_files/ugd/8ec181_ab00306f347f4046b6a950cdcaa2cdc6.pdf
Refence 5: Lewisham air quality data: https://lewisham.gov.uk/myservices/environment/air-pollution/read-our-air-quality-action-plan-and-other-reports
Reference 6: London Council’s Report “Demystifying Air Pollution in London”: https://www.londoncouncils.gov.uk/node/33224
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