Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Will they never stand up to the carmakers and save our lungs?

Following close on the heels of James' post (GO READ THIS!, Monday, Oct 31), here's a piece from George Monbiot of the Guardian, a UK newspaper. He looks at the relationship between motor traffic and some public health issues. Could we be seeing a theme here? Are motor vehicles and their emissions a genuine public health hazard? If so, should we expect the medical community and more importantly, the health insurance industry, to get involved in cleaning up our air? And it truly is OUR air!

Link to original article.

(Excerpts follow)

Will they never stand up to the carmakers and save our lungs?

Air pollution kills many times more people than passive smoking, but Britain has failed even to meet feeble EU standards


George Monbiot
Tuesday November 1, 2005
The Guardian


It was fudged - stupidly and unnecessarily fudged - but at least they tried. The ban on smoking in pubs, though gutted by the prime minister's cowardice, will save some fraction of the bar staff who die every year as a result of passive smoking. The moral case is clear: people are being exposed to a risk for which they have not volunteered. While smokers have an undisputed right to kill themselves, they have no right to kill other people. This case being generally applicable, what does the government intend to do about passive driving?

...Since the great smog of 1952 forced the government to legislate, since coal gave way to gas and factories fitted filters to their chimneys, acute pollution crises of the kind which once killed thousands in a couple of days have not recurred. (Our nostalgia for the London peasouper, like the uproar over the disappearance of the Routemaster bus, betrays one of our national weaknesses: a romantic attachment to pollution.) Between 1992 and 2000, traffic fumes fell steeply. But in 2000 the decline in the most dangerous pollutant - small particles of soot - came to a halt. Since then the levels have held more or less steady (with a spike in the hot summer of 2003). The British government is in breach of European rules, and the European commission is in breach of any serious effort to do something about it. So 39,000 lives are shortened every year.

Surprisingly, passive driving strikes mostly at the heart, not the lungs. The effect is not clearly understood....a study of 4,000 children in Munich showed that those who lived within 50 metres of busy roads were twice as likely to suffer from asthma, and suffered more from coughing, wheezing and allergies. A massive study in Taiwan - involving 300,000 children - found that those exposed to the heaviest traffic pollution were 16% more likely to suffer from allergic rhinitis (hayfever, housedust allergy and the like). The most carcinogenic compound ever detected - 3-nitrobenzanthrone - is produced by heavily loaded diesel engines. Like the other cancer-causing molecules they emit, it is released in very small quantities, and no one yet knows what effect it might have.

...As a cyclist, these failures drive me berserk. I refuse to own a car, partly because I believe it is wrong to fill other people's lungs with carcinogens. And so, while the drivers breathe their filtered air, I have to sit behind their tailpipes, drawing their excretions - for I am exerting myself - deep into my chest.

...At least the bar staff can, though perhaps at the cost of unemployment, withdraw their labour from the cancer market, but what choice do I have, or does anyone have, short of living in an oxygen tent? Why, in this age of particulate filters and hypercars, do I have to fill my lungs with every known species of airborne fug whenever I go to buy a pint of milk? Is it so hard for a government, which seems determined to offend the entire voting public with its assaults on schools and hospitals, to stand up to a handful of motor manufacturers who no longer even operate here? Or must we believe that public health in the UK takes second place to the profits of foreign corporations?

2 Comments:

Blogger James said...

Interesting article. The figures that I cited, 30,000 to 40,000 deaths in the US each year, are based only on fatalities caused directly by car accidents. If you figure in deaths caused by pollution and premature deaths caused by a sedentary lifestyle, who knows what the automobile's true death toll would be?

11:57 AM  
Blogger Andrea said...

I do remember a study that claimed the pollution breathed whilst sitting in traffic in a car was way more concentrated than anything you pass-by on high whilst riding your bike. Hot air might rise but the emissions from engines are very heavy and when you're sitting in traffic there's no dispersion. Yip for flying by on pedal power.

4:04 PM  

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