Greenway

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Extreme air pollution is a problem not just in the big East Asian metropolises. We just hear about these most often due to smog several times exceeding the safety limits. Beijing is actually becoming the synonym for extremely high concentration of harmful particles in the air, time and time again. Last occasion was in January this year, as the Chinese metropolis found itself covered in a thick smog haze exceeding 20 times the limits considered safe by the World Health Organization (WHO). Once again showing the promises of the Chinese government to better the air quality going unfulfilled. The Europeans are usually unperturbed by similar reports and only notice them when they make newspaper headlines. Most people from the old continent treat this problem with disinterest and lassitude, even though the problem is at least as severe here, if not more so, than in the country of the heavenly dragon.

The highest administrative authority in Greater London (Greater London Authority) commissioned a study from the University of King’s College London to assess the impact of nitrogen dioxide on the health of Londoners. The extensive study for the first time ever dealt in detail with a characteristic pollutant associated with traffic, providing some surprising and particularly disturbing findings.

Due to this toxic gas, which among other things causes acid rains and smog, the mortality climbed up to a record value - PM2.5. This number expresses by how many years is the life expectancy of an average inhabitant of an area with air polluted by nitrogen dioxide reduced. But we can visualize this figure in a different way. According to the study about 5900 inhabitants of London have died in 2010 due to long-term exposure to air pollutants of this type. If we talk about total mortality due to exposure to toxic gases from transport, particularly including nitrogen dioxide, the number climbs up to 9400 deaths. And that’s just the UK capital! These estimates could send a warning signal to the whole Western world. Before we had such indicators and detailed calculations it was previously very difficult to understand the effects of exhaust fumes pollution and its impact on public health. Hopefully there is no one now who dares to doubt that vehicles with combustion engines, especially diesel, negatively affect lives of all of us.

Yet this English study is not the first scientific publications on this topic. Late last year news about upcoming changes on French roads started a public debate. The French Government had set itself the goal of reducing the already very high number of diesel cars. The measures themselves are merely a logical step in efforts to cut down numbers of worst dirty cars, which embitter the lives of people without them even realizing it.

It is important to understand that the problem of air pollution by nitrogen dioxide concerns us all. With no exceptions. As for other European cities that just can not or do not want to deal with diesels, we would probably get numbers similar to those reached by English researchers. The European Parliament therefore plans to address the proposal to further tighten the limits on air pollution.

We strongly hope that the Members of Parliament will take the results of the English study into account and realize, that these can be generalized to virtually any European metropolis. Polluted air is harmful and indiscriminate, and the risks associated therewith can be compared with the risk of medical complications and respiratory problems in a passionate smoker. “The number of premature deaths due to air pollution is much higher than we expected. From an economic point of view we probably also underestimated the impact of pollution in terms of economic productivity, such as sick leaves”, said the spokesman for the European Environment Agency, Sébastien Pant.

There is another reason to lift a warning finger. According to the European Commission full 16 Member States do not respect the agreed upon European emission limits on nitrogen dioxide. The countries currently facing legal action and possible sanctions are Germany, Spain, France, Italy, Portugal and the United Kingdom. But what about responding to negative news in a positive way, just as we do. It was our aim from the beginning to bring meaningful innovation that will have wide positive effects.