Nearly 300 doctors, nurses and other health professionals from across the UK, including over 100 doctors in London, have signed a letter to Theresa May calling for government action to remove the current fleet of diesel vehicles from the roads as soon as possible. Doctors Against Diesel are a recently formed group of doctors, nurses and health professionals campaigning for greater awareness of the health impacts of diesel emissions, and for action to reduce the number of diesel vehicles in towns and cities.
The letter notes the government’s own Chief Medical Officer’s view that diesel vehicles should be phased out. It highlights the strong and growing evidence regarding a range of health effects of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and black carbon (soot) emissions throughout the life course. For example, in infants and children there is strong evidence, including data from children in London, that exposure to fossil fuel-derived air pollution stunts lung growth. Without urgent action emissions from diesel vehicles will cause irreversible lung damage to the current generation of children.
The letter states that a national diesel reduction initiative, led by government, would represent a major public health advance.
Professor Jonathan Grigg, Professor of Paediatric Respiratory end Environmental Medicine, Queen Mary University of London, and founding member of Doctors Against Diesel said:
“There is overwhelming evidence that locally-generated sooty particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide is harming children’s health. In London, we know that diesel engines are a major and unnecessary cause of air pollution along our roads. Cutting diesel emissions would therefore have an immediate impact on children’s personal exposure, and improve their long-term health. In children, combining lower pollution exposure with active travel would be a major public health advance – and must be done as soon as possible.”
Professor John Middleton, President of the UK Faculty of Public Health said:
“NOx emissions breached legal limits in London in the first week of January, and recent figures show that sales of diesel cars have reached an all-time high. Diesel is the primary source of nitrogen dioxide in urban areas and is linked to health effects that begin before birth and extend throughout the life course, from childhood lung development and asthma, to increased risk of heart disease, stroke, lung cancer and dementia. It is time for diesel to be recognised as the health emergency that it is.”
Dr Isobel Braithwaite, Junior Doctor at the North Middlesex Hospital in Tottenham, currently working in the Children’s unit:
“I want to live in a city where everyone can get around safely without worrying about what’s going into their lungs and how it will impact their and their children’s health. Although I haven’t been working for a long time I’ve seen a lot of patients, including children, come to A&E with asthma attacks, which are much more likely when pollution levels are higher.”
Dr Rajive Mitra, GP in North Lambeth said:
“I cycle to work and do my home visits on my bicycle. Cycling on main roads I feel the effects of pollution daily. I am campaigning to get diesel cars off our streets as it affects my patients with Asthma and COPD – to see them suffer is very upsetting. I’d advise people heading out onto London’s busier streets to try to walk on quieter roads and walk away from the side of the road. I’d like to see local and national authorities phase out diesel cars and promote electric cars, but also help people to get out of cars and be able to cycle and walk more.”
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 Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer, 30 Dec 2016 – as Guest Editor of Today Programme, see: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/12/30/diesel-cars-should-phased-stop-pollution-deaths-says-chief-medical/
 Royal College of Physicians, 2016, Every Breath We Take: The lifelong Impact of Air Pollution, available at: https://www.rcplondon.ac.uk/projects/outputs/every-breath-we-take-lifelong-impact-air-pollution