Car Air Pollution 2

Photo- Carlos F Pardo


Air pollution shrouds the automobile city (4), air pollution strips stone from monuments (2) and, turning to acid rain, damages forests and lakes many miles away (5). It has a serious effect on health. The automobile claims more than twice as many lives from its toxic emissions as from car “accidents” (6). Its overall health effects - heart and lung illnesses and birth defects - are still being counted .

Automobiles account for 30 % of all toxic air pollution in the US (7) and are responsible for 60-80 % of urban air pollution (8). Exhaust gases are particularly dangerous because they are released close to the ground.

Analysis of deaths in France, Austria and Switzerland show 6 % of all deaths stem from air pollution (1).  This is now the accepted average for the Western world, with around half these deaths due to tiny particles in vehicle exhausts, particularly diesel. But this is an average figure.  The health impact for those who live in cities, the worst affected areas, must be higher (9). Could the death toll in our cities be as much as one in ten?  That we could seriously pose such a question is an indication of just how serious a problem this is.

To give you an idea of the scale of the problem, let us take look at some of the numbers  :-

  • Every year, 350,000 deaths in the EU are caused or hastened by air pollution, most from vehicle sources. The greatest risk is to the heart, not to the lungs (10)
  • It’s estimated that around one in seven children in the UK suffers from asthma and there are strong links between this and traffic pollution (11)
  • A study of children living in California showed that those who lived close to busy roads were 83 % more likely to suffer from asthma and suffered more from coughing, wheezing and allergies (12) .
    Digging through the numbers can be mind-numbing , but here’s one more interesting fact:-
  • Scientists carrying out tests in Japan were shocked to discover the most carcinogenic compound ever detected - 3-Nitrobenzanthrone - produced by heavily loaded diesel engines. Following not too far behind was the second most deadly compound ever detected, 1,8-Dinitropyrene, also a product of diesel engines (13).

We should not forget that the air we breathe starts clean.  That is its natural state and that is how it should remain.  If the right to breathe clean air is not a basic human right then what is ?


   Car Air Pollution 3
Clean air on the carfree island of GuLangYu.
Photo by livingspace

Car Air Pollution 4
Jakarta automobile air pollution
  SUT-swisscontact-dont disturb my breathing


Two hundred thousand tons of nitrogen dioxide now drop on England every year, reacting with all organic material (14a). Each car spews enough nitrogen oxides in a year to dissolve a twenty pound canon ball (14b). 

However, a 2002 report by the U.S. Environment Protection Agency on the health risk of automobile emissions bears the words "don't cite, don't quote" on every page, prompted by fears that the automobile industry would sue. The agency wanted strict limits on emissions as far back as 1977, but had to give up under pressure from the automobile industry (15).  The auto industry’s record in this regard is consistent and shameful, This will surprise those who believe its ‘greenwash’ advertising . However, as you seek out the truth behind this powerful industry a very different picture emerges.

It was in California back in the 1950s that the automobile was first identified as the main cause of smog.  The industry responded in its standard way, first attacking the credibility of the science then fighting  a legal and political campaign to prevent any action being taken to reduce tailpipe emissions.

“To observers in the mid-1960s, it was apparent that the auto industry was not progressing in its ‘effort’ to lessen pollution emissions, and many felt that the industry was dragging its feet” . Stan Lugar, Corporate Power, American Democracy, and The Automobile Industry (16).

The automobile industry delayed and fought every attempt to improve air quality for more than half a century, at both national and state level. Under the administration of G.W.Bush the automobile industry was still pursuing Court and legislative challenges against California in an attempt to prevent California from being allowed to establish any air quality standards at all. This is the same industry that campaigned strongly against unleaded gasoline, catalytic converters, seat belts and air bags.

 Car Air Pollution

Photo- Bobak HaEri

Car Air Pollution

Photo- Bobak HaEri

The two pictures above, taken in Beijing before and after rain, clearly show the serious impact of air pollution in an automobile city  (17).



People on the street
Are clinically referred to by city planners
As "Pedestrian traffic",
Their lives impassively foreshortened
In an alfresco gas-chamber

 Autogeddon - P 64, Heathcote Williams