healthHealth and Medicine

Diesel Vehicle Pollution Kills 10,000 People Per Year In The European Union


Robin Andrews

Science & Policy Writer

Cough cough. Orlandor Stocker/Shutterstock

Far from just fighting climate change, governments around the world are beginning to contemplate or even implement bans on petrol and diesel cars by 2030-2040 in order to stop millions of their own citizens dying from air pollution-related illnesses.

The sooner the internal combustion engine dies, the better – a new Environmental Research Letters study has revealed that up to 10,000 people per year in the European Union (EU) die prematurely from diesel vehicles. When it comes to excess diesel-related nitrous oxide emissions alone – those that purposefully (and illegally) exceeded the levels of the safety limits put in place by health authorities – that figure sits at 4,560, as of 2013.


That means nearly 5,000 people per year in the EU have died because certain vehicle manufacturers sneakily tried to circumvent the life-saving regulations put in place to keep the air quality to a certain minimal standard.

As we’ve previously reported, air pollution is responsible for taking several years – and in some cases an entire decade – off your life expectancy. The finer the particulate matter that a fuel or power source produces, the worse it is in terms of the prevalence of associated cardiovascular or respiratory illness.

Although both petrol and diesel produce a lot of particulates, burning diesel emits more of the finer PM10 and PM2.5 type that gets lodged in your airways. They’re bad enough for anyone to inhale, but for those with weakened immune systems, asthma, or those that are very young or very old, these can prove to be fatal.

That’s why, according to this study, tens of thousands of people die per year. If the majority of cars happened to be electrically powered – a proliferation many states are seeing as inevitable within a few decades – plenty of these people would still be alive.

Diesel is worse than petrol when it comes to air pollution. Pavel Kubarkow/Shutterstock

Of the EU states, plus Switzerland and Norway, the researchers found Italy to be the worst offender, with 2,810 deaths related to diesel-linked pollution occurring every year. Germany (2,070), France (1,430), and the UK (640) come second, third, and fourth, respectively.

The problem doesn’t stop with diesel, however. Thanks to coal-burning power plants, construction work and more, air pollution kills a staggering 425,000 people in the EU every year. The team, led by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis and The Norwegian Meteorological Institute, note that 90 percent of these deaths are yet again linked to cardiovascular or respiratory conditions.

Fortunately, governments like France, the UK, and China have seen the writing on the wall. In the near-future, the sale of cars with conventional fossil fuel engines will be prohibited.


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