Save Lives by Lowering Pollution, Says WHO

In 2021, after 16 years of no changes, the World Health Organization (WHO) presented their new guidelines for air pollution limits. Daily and annual exposure levels for six vehicle pollutants were lowered significantly. WHO decided to update the guidelines after various research provided evidence that toxic air is now the leading cause of premature deaths worldwide. Health impacts are evident even if the exposure is low level.

The WHO’s Maria Neira said that the current evidence is stronger than the previous ones. Furthermore, the University of Southampton UK’s Stephen Holgate said that population-based research offers proof that air pollution has no safe levels.

Although the WHO air pollution guidelines are not legally binding, they influence governments and campaigners who have long been asking for stricter programs and better implementation of measures.

New guidelines

The new guidelines are focused on tiny particulate matter or PM2.5, which is produced when fossil fuel in vehicles is burned. PM2.5’s updated annual limit has been halved while nitrogen dioxide’s (NO2) was lowered by at least 75%.

Here’s a comparison of the old and new WHO guidelines for particulate matter, specifically PM2.5 and PM 10, as well as NO2. These are expressed in micrograms per cubic metre (µg/m3).

PM2.5 –                Old annual: 10µg/m3

                                New annual: 5µg/m3

PM10 –                  Old annual: 20µg/m3

                                New annual: 15µg/m3

NO2 –                    Old annual: 40µg/m3

                                New annual: 10µg/m3

Following the new WHO limits for PM2.5 will bring down premature deaths by approximately 80% (equivalent to around 3.3 million individuals per year).

Global threat

Over the years, the number of early deaths due to toxic air has steadily climbed. Air pollution has now become a global threat to human health. Estimates point to around seven million deaths every year, but the number may be higher.

Air pollution affects all ages – children and adults suffer from various health impacts. Children can develop reduced function and growth of the lungs in addition to asthma and other respiratory infections. Adults become vulnerable and develop neurodegenerative conditions, although most premature deaths are caused by stroke and ischaemic heart disease. Exposure to toxic air can destroy all the organs in the body, which may lead to lung problems, diabetes, and cardiovascular problems. This can also reduce intelligence and cause dementia.

Air pollution shortens lives by at least two years – six years for highly polluted places. This makes it more dangerous than smoking, HIV and AIDS, and car crashes.

The best way to protect lives is to bring down air pollution levels. Lower vehicle emissions can help improve the quality of air, particularly in areas where nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions are high. Low- and middle-income neighbourhoods and countries are also more susceptible to air pollution, so the focus should be on them as well.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus encouraged all countries to use the guidelines as a basis for increasing life expectancy and reducing suffering, especially for those who belong to the vulnerable population.

NOx emissions and the Dieselgate scandal

Nitrogen oxide or NOx is a reactive gas released by diesel vehicles. It is a big contributor to air pollution, especially when you consider the volume emitted by car brands that are involved in the Dieselgate scandal.

The diesel emissions scandal first broke out in 2015 when the Volkswagen Group received a notice of violation from authorities for selling Volkswagen and Audi diesel vehicles equipped with defeat devices to consumers in the US. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and California Air Resources Board ordered the carmaker to recall the thousands of vehicles that were affected by the emissions-manipulation devices.

A defeat device is designed to sense when a vehicle is in the lab for regulatory testing. Once it determines that the vehicle it’s installed in is being subjected to such a test, it brings down emissions to within the WHO-mandated legal levels. Therefore, for the entirety of the evaluation, the vehicle appears fuel-efficient and safe. However, this is only true during testing conditions because once the vehicle is taken out and driven on real roads, it goes back to expelling massive amounts of NOx. As such, there is nothing clean about it – it is a pollutant.

For allegedly lying to their customers, exposing drivers to dangerous emissions, and violating emissions regulations, the VW Group has had to spend billions on payoffs.

The list of carmakers involved in the scandal is long and includes globally popular brands such as Mercedes-Benz and BMW. UK-based Vauxhall is also on the list. Law firms are encouraging affected carmakers to bring forward a diesel claim as based on the findings of emissions authorities, VW, Mercedes, BMW, Vauxhall, and all other manufacturers implicated in the scandal are responsible for their illegal actions.

Although the Vauxhall emissions scandal is fairly new compared to VW’s, car owners have already started working with law firms for a possible GLO or Group Litigation Order.

NOx emissions destroy the environment, threaten vegetation, and affect mental and overall human health. Exposure to NOx can lead to premature death. Affected drivers should file an emissions claim against their carmaker.

How should I start my diesel claim?

If you have a Vauxhall or any of the vehicles included in the Dieselgate list, the first thing that you should do is visit to verify your eligibility to file a claim. Once you have all the information you need, you can work with emissions experts to ensure that your diesel claim starts in the right direction.