Doctors issue prescription to the Prime Minister for tougher action on air pollution


Press release from Doctors against Diesel
Strictly embargoed until 08:30hrs 10 May 2017
Contact Alice Munro: [email protected] // 07866982472

‘Doctors Against Diesel’ have marched to Downing Street today, to deliver a giant prescription to the Prime Minister, ordering her to deliver tougher action on air pollution to protect children’s lungs ‘every breath, every day’ across the UK. See photos here (approx. 10:00hrs 10 May).

Levels of harmful nitrogen dioxide air pollution in the UK have broken legal levels every year since 2010, and the UK’s toxic air has been described as a public health emergency.

Last week, compelled by the High Court, the government revealed its new draft plan to tackle illegal and unsafe air pollution in the UK, and it was widely criticised by for being woefully inadequate with no firm commitment to any new measures that will result in a rapid improvement to air quality.

Scientific studies show high exposure to polluted air at a young age can cause chronic health problems that last a lifetime. In young children, air pollution can cause asthma and stunt lung growth by up to 10%. It is linked to strokes, heart disease and diabetes in older people.

Doctors against diesel are calling for urgent transformation on our roads away from diesel in order to reduce people’s exposure to harmful air pollution, which would require Low Emissions Zones, restrictions around schools and greater encouragement of car clubs, walking, cycling and public transport [1].


Jonathan Grigg, Professor of Paediatric Respiratory and Environmental Medicine, Queen Mary University of London, said: “Air quality in the UK is a public health crisis, our government must tackle toxic emissions from our roads by robust national action. The air that children are being made to breathe every day is having lasting impacts on their health and development, and there is not a moment to waste. In patients with pneumonia we eliminate the bacteria with antibiotics, we don’t just treat the fever with aspirin. Similarly, our Government must treat air pollution from roads by removing the current fleet of diesel vehicles and not tinker around the edges by removing speed bumps.”

Stephen Holgate CBE, Professor of Immunopharmacology at Southampton University and Chair of the Royal College of Physicians Working Party on Air Pollution, said: “The government has produced a very lack lustre response in its plan for improving outdoor air quality which is likely to have minimal impact on health. Specifically, no new Clean Air Zones (CAZs) announced, Charging Zones discouraged, no additional funding for local authorities to what was included in the original CAZ framework, the onus being on local authorities to develop their own proposals, an unclear diesel scrappage scheme and weak vehicle retrofitting initiatives with, again, local authorities having to figure out for themselves how to finance this without additional funding. Such measures will not be effective in protecting the public with children and the vulnerable being at particular risk.”

A recent Greenpeace investigation revealed more than 2,000 schools, nurseries, further education centres and after-school clubs are within 150m of roads emitting illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide.

Diesel vehicles are responsible for 90% of the toxic nitrogen oxides (NOx) coming from roads [2].

Following the ‘Dieselgate’ scandal that rocked the car industry in 2015, it’s come to light that car companies have been knowingly breaking air pollution standards.

Despite some moves to alter testing regulations and ‘fix’ some of the cars, two-thirds of the newest EURO 6 diesel cars still aren’t meeting emissions standards in real world conditions. And some new diesel cars emit 15 times more toxic pollution than they are supposed to.

The government was ordered by the High Court to look again at its plans to tackle air pollution, in part because its modelling of the scale of the problem was too optimistic and didn’t take into account real world emissions from diesel cars exceeding pollution limits.

The government’s latest draft plan to tackle illegal air pollution was released on Friday (5 May), and it has been suggested the plan is so poor, it may see the government taken back to court.


For further details and interviews, call Alice Munro on 07866982472 or email [email protected].


Notes to editors:

[1] Doctors against Diesel’s prescription to Theresa May describes that the air pollution health crisis can be resolved if:

  • Low Emissions Zones are effective in reducing personal exposure, and exist in all polluted cities
  • Traffic and idling restrictions exist around all schools
  • Diesel scrappage schemes encourage car clubs, cycling and public transport
  • Air quality monitoring and warnings during high pollution episodes are mandatory and accessible to vulnerable populations
  • UK Air quality targets are aligned with World Health Organisation guidelines
  • Cycling and walking are made healthy and safe for all journey

[2] Analysis of statistics from DEFRA. Of total road transport, diesel cars account for 41% of total NOx, heavy duty diesel vehicles and buses 29%, and light duty diesel vehicles 20% = total for diesel vehicles of 90%. Source: DEFRA

Find the post on the Doctors Against Diesel website.

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