Air pollution has become a global environmental and health crisis. Everywhere you go, dirty air is around you. Even when you are at home, you’re still exposed to air pollution. Even students inside schools cannot escape from toxic air.
According to an analysis released by the City Hall, all schools in London are located in areas where the levels of air pollution far exceed the safe limits recommended by the World Health Organization. Approximately 98% of these educational institutions are in areas surrounded by poor air quality and only about 24% are operating outside of London.
Students throughout England are affected by the air pollution situation. An estimated 3.1 million schoolchildren are exposed to toxic air every day.
These figures were taken from an analysis that came out in 2019, months before the COVID-19 pandemic broke.
In a study that Airly conducted, it was revealed that NO2 or nitrogen dioxide levels in schools (or in areas where schools are) reached “worryingly-high” levels. This was in September 2021, when students were expected to be back on campus.
Earlier in August, Coronation Street, a popular UK TV show, aired a story that featured the impact of air pollution on children. It showed a young boy named Liam who was having difficulty breathing as paramedics raced through the congested streets of Weatherfield as they try to get to him on time.
At the hospital, Liam’s mom learns that her son had an asthma attack that was triggered by the toxic air coming from traffic fumes. The show’s managing director of continuing drama, John Whiston, believes that featuring an environmental issue in the soap opera is one way of making people aware of what they can do to improve the quality of the air we breathe.
Although air pollution levels at the height of the pandemic hovered near safer levels, the numbers slowly went up again after the COVID-19 lockdown. This is proof that air pollution and human activity are linked.
What are emissions and what do they have to do with air pollution?
Vehicle emissions are substances or chemicals that are released from cars. They are exhaust gases that significantly harm air quality, affect the environment, and have various impacts on human health.
The emissions that come from diesel vehicles are what typically contribute to toxic air. NOx or nitrogen oxide is a gas with NO or nitric oxide and NO2 or nitrogen dioxide as two of its main components.
NOx produces smog and acid rain, which greatly affect the environment. Once it reacts with other compounds or elements, it can create ground-level ozone, which impacts vegetation by making crops and plants susceptible to frost and damage. Ground-level ozone can also retard plant growth.
However, the most devastating effects of NOx exposure are on human health – and there are several.
If a person is exposed to low-levels of nitrogen oxide, they can experience the following health impacts:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Asthma (or aggravated asthma if the person already has it)
- Difficulty in breathing
- Other respiratory issues
If an individual is exposed to high levels of NOx emissions, they can experience any of the following health impacts:
- Increased susceptibility to cancers and cardiovascular diseases
- Laryngospasm or spasm of the vocal cords
- Chronically reduced function of the lungs
- Premature death
In the UK, the first case linked to air pollution is that of nine-year-old Ella Kissi-Debrah, who lived with her mother in the South Circular Road area, which is known for its high levels of NOx emissions. Ella had been in and out of the hospital and emergency room for months for seizures and other respiratory issues. She succumbed to a severe asthma attack.
An inquest was made on Ella’s death and in December 2020, the coroner officially announced that the nine-year-old’s death was ruled as caused by air pollution.
The environmental and health impacts of nitrogen oxide exposure make NOx emissions a major global issue, especially after the Dieselgate diesel emissions scandal that broke in 2015.
The diesel emissions scandal and air pollution
The diesel emissions scandal happened in September 2015 after US authorities allegedly found illegal defeat devices in Volkswagen diesel vehicles sold in the American market. A defeat device is designed to detect when a vehicle is in testing and when it does, emissions are suppressed to levels that are within the limits set by the World Health Organization (WHO).
When the vehicle is taken out and driven in real-world road conditions, however, the vehicle emits considerable amounts of NOx – amounts that are over the WHO and EU limits. So, essentially, the vehicle is a pollutant; it emits toxic air at levels that impact the environment and human health.
In addition, the carmakers sold the vehicle as clean and safe at a premium price. So, they deliberately lied to customers and mis-sold the vehicle.
This is why it is important for affected car owners to file an emissions claim against their manufacturer. It can be time-consuming and challenging, but working with a panel of emissions solicitors should make the situation easier.