Intended for healthcare professionals


Dirty diesel

BMJ 2016; 355 doi: (Published 29 December 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;355:i6726
  1. Robin Russell-Jones, chair
  1. Help Rescue the Planet, Stoke Poges, UK
  1. robin{at}

Cities and citizens choke while the government looks the other way

In the 19th century, John Snow correctly identified the Broad Street pump as the source of a cholera outbreak in Soho, but a subsequent inquiry by the Board of Health decided that there was no reason to act.1

The response of the UK government to air pollution displays a similar lack of foresight. The main problem is diesel. Not only do we have a legacy of dirty lorries, buses, and taxis; the UK, along with much of Europe, has tragically adopted diesel as the main fuel for private cars. Before 2000 less than 10% of new cars sold in the UK were diesel. Now the figure is over 50%. Furthermore the amount of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) emitted by most diesel cars on the road is 4-5 times the EU limits allowed in laboratory tests. Illegal defeat devices installed by Volkswagen enabled NO2 emissions up to 40 times the EU limit.

For the past six years, the UK government has refused to implement the 2008 EU Air Quality Directive on the grounds …

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