NEWS: Diesel linked to 10,000 premature deaths each year, finds university study

Air pollution from diesel vehicles is landing the NHS and society with over £6 billion a year in health bills, a joint study from Oxford and Bath universities has found.

The study compares the health impacts of petrol with electric and hybrid vehicles. It found that the health damage effects associated with diesel vehicle emissions are around 20 times more than electric vehicles and at least five times more than those associated with petrol vehicles – with exposure to PM2.5 and NOX linked to an estimated 40,000 early deaths.

Commissioned by Global Action Plan – who coordinate the forthcoming Clean Air Day (21 June) – the study found that London and Birmingham top the league table for the highest cost to the NHS from vehicles.

London’s vehicles bill to the NHS is totally £605 million per annum, and Birmingham £150 million.

The report also estimates that cars and vans are responsible for more than a quarter (£5.9 billion a year) of the total UK health damage costs from air pollution, with about four fifths of the car health costs due to pollution from diesel cars.

The total annual health costs for cars and vans correspond to more than 10,000 premature deaths each year.

Commenting, Dr Christian Brand, University of Oxford’s School of Geography and Environment, and Co-Director of the UK Energy Research Centre, said diesel vehicles are the main problem: "The valuation of health effects associated with diesel vehicles are at least five times greater than those associated with petrol vehicles, and around 20 times greater than battery electric vehicles. These results raise important questions as to how best to develop effective and fair air quality and transport strategies in urban areas.”

Dr Alistair Hunt, Lecturer in Environmental Economics, University of Bath, said: “Our research for the first time illustrates the individual cost that each car and van has on the NHS and wider society. Every time these vehicles are driven, they are having a significant impact on our health, equivalent to £7,714 for an average inner London car over its lifetime.”

Ill health effects from diesel vehicles are five times greater than the rate for petrol vehicles. Photograph: iStock

The team used the DEFRA and COMEAP impact analysis, alongside fleet make up, pollutant emissions and miles driven to create a model of individual vehicle damage costs.

The study comes after the government published a new consultation on measures to clean up illegal levels of air pollution.

Environmental lawyers, Client Earth, said they were ‘surprised and disappointed’ that the government in the consultation, which calls for ideas and suggestions, said it is not expecting ‘any significant new evidence’ to emerge from the exercise.  

ClientEarth lawyer Katie Nield said: “The government seems to have run out of ideas.”

Last month, Michael Gove, secretary of state for the environment, was attacked by Labour for failure to act on pressing issues concerning public health and the environment.

Sue Hayman MP, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “Michael Gove is fast becoming the Secretary of State for Consultations, with no primary legislation brought forward by Defra since the General Election despite numerous promises and with only months to go until Britain leaves the EU.”

“Labour will be pressing to ensure that the UK has equal and better environmental standards after Brexit, with an independent body with real powers to hold the Government to account.”

Access the report here 

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