ABD calls for environmental audit of public transport yet latest air quality scare scapegoats cars.
Air quality health concerns "overblown and unjustifiable", says drivers' group.
Recent news reports have featured atmospheric chemist Prof Mike Pilling telling drivers to use their cars less. Prof Pilling believes car-related global warming will make the UK miss its air quality improvement targets, and that this will, in turn, kill thousands of people.
His statements fly in the face of research by the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) Report 431, which concluded that no restrictions on car use in London were warranted on air quality grounds. Ben Adams, ABD Environment Spokesman said "Whilst cars are getting cleaner and greener, public transport has been let off the pollution hook for too long. That's why we're now calling for a full environmental audit of public transport."
"As happens all too often, the media failed to ask the right questions of Prof. Pilling and the public ended up with a distorted view," says Adams. "We are particularly concerned about Prof. Pilling's statement, broadcast on Radio 4, that he "estimated that up to 700 people may have had their deaths brought forward due to poor air quality" in last summer's heatwave.
The ABD believes the public should demand answers to 4 key questions:
1. Who are the people who are claimed to have died?
2. How has Prof Pilling "estimated" their numbers?
3. By how long have their deaths been brought forward?
4. What is the scientific basis for linking these deaths to air quality?
Some answers to these questions can be found on careful reading of a report which has been misquoted by environmentalists to claim that vehicle exhaust gasses are killing people. (Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollution [COMEAP], Department of Health, 1998)
This report suggested that some people already close to death from respiratory diseases had succumbed a FEW DAYS OR HOURS earlier than anticipated during periods of poorer air quality. No individual cases were looked at, no autopsies were performed, no death certificate carried "air pollution" as a cause of death. The report authors were at pains to point out that all they had done is manipulate the records of deaths to establish a STATISTICAL link between times of death and air pollution levels.
"So any implication that poor outdoor air quality is striking down healthy people and sending them to an early death is entirely false," emphasised Ben Adams. "Indoor air in the UK has been shown by the government's Buildings Research Establishment to be 10 times more polluted than outdoor urban air, and it's indoor air these patients are breathing".
The bottom line is that both cars and industry have cleaned up their environmental act much more quickly and effectively than the public transport industry. This is why the ABD today calls for a full environmental audit of the relative benefits of cars and public transport - an audit that is long overdue.
Notes for editors on Pollutants and Global Warming
The two pollutants mentioned - Ozone and Particulates - are not emitted in any significant quantity from petrol-engined cars. Ozone levels are frequently higher in rural than urban areas, due to naturally occurring volatile organic compounds.
Diesel engines, particularly the larger ones in buses and trains, are responsible for significant emissions of particulate matter. Private car emissions are being cleaned up rapidly by new European standards, whereas buses and trains are lagging far behind. In a taped interview with motoring journalist Mike Rutherford, John Prescott confessed that a solution to the bus pollution problem is at least ten years away (from the present).
Buses are indeed a major environmental concern, emitting the two most carcinogenic chemicals known to science when the engine is under load, i.e. pulling away from high street bus stops. These are 3-nitrobenzanthrone (NBA) and 1,8-dinitropyrene (DNP), only 0.0000003 grams of these pollutants caused 6 and 5 million mutations respectively in standard AMES tests of carcinogenicity.
According to recent research by Calor, standing in the car-free centre of Oxford for 24 hours is equivalent to smoking 61.4 Rothmans "Light" cigarettes in terms of inhalation of Nitrous Oxides. Oxford was the worst of 30 sites tested.
Many sources of particulates in outdoor air are not even from the UK; a lot of trans-boundary pollution is brought over from southern Europe on warm southerly winds, and this is often responsible for high pollution levels on hot days when air quality targets are not met (Prof. Pilling made this point).
The effects of natural climate change on local weather are not fully understood or predictable - experts cannot make up their minds whether Britain will get hotter or colder if global temperatures rise. In a naturally mild winter 20,000 cold-related deaths are avoided compared to a severe winter, almost equal to the unjustified claims over air pollution. Cars are responsible for only 0.5% of total global carbon dioxide emissions. Moreover all independent scientific research over the last 5 years has shown that temperature changes occur BEFORE carbon dioxide changes, so trying to manipulate the climate through carbon dioxide emissions is trying to put effect before cause, a King Canute exercise of modern times and a waste of £trillions worldwide (see ABD PR 409).