Emissions Pollution Affects Poor Disproportionately, Study Suggests

A study published by researchers from the University of Virginia in October 2021 concluded that nitrogen dioxide (NO2) pollution is more prominent by at least 28% in communities and neighbourhoods of colour, particularly those in lower-income areas.

The study utilised satellites in measuring near-daily NO2 emissions in a number of cities in the United States. The list included New Jersey, Los Angeles, and Phoenix and focused mainly on low-income communities and neighbourhoods of colour.

Researchers discovered that in the above-mentioned communities and neighbourhoods, residents are more exposed to NO2 pollution by at least 28% compared to those who reside in higher-income neighbourhoods with a mostly white population. Most low-income neighbourhoods are located in areas that are close to trucking routes, so diesel trucks emitting NO2 and other toxic gases drive by these areas every day.

Diesel trucks are one of the major sources of toxic emissions like NO2 and nitrogen oxides (NOx). They contribute an average of about 50% of the total nitrogen dioxide pollution.

The research also found out that a good solution to the air pollution problem is to lessen the volume of diesel vehicles on the road as this would lead to a decrease of at least 60% of diesel-related pollution and significantly improves air quality in communities that are historically disadvantaged.

Transportation and public health expert, Regan Patterson, believes the study is essential because it provides additional (and clear) evidence that diesel traffic is a major source of disparity. It is proof that affected communities have been telling the truth for years.

Patterson, who finished her graduate studies at the University of California in Berkeley, co-authored a study that she based on earlier research she did as a graduate student. It was published in the summer of 2021 and revealed that focusing on diesel emissions is an ideal solution to air pollution disparities. Patterson’s study showed how adopting newer diesel vehicle technologies for emissions control can have an effect on communities and neighbourhoods situated along California’s major truck routes. It compared the affected communities with a significant number of coloured residents with neighbourhoods in more affluent areas.

The study showed a reduction in diesel emissions in both neighbourhoods but the drop was larger and more significant in lower-income communities.

The study’s authors believe their findings reveal which policies may be more effective and efficient in reducing (and eventually eliminating) air pollution disparities. The new information can be used in drawing up better policy making plans.

Policymakers can focus on the fast-tracking of buses and heavy-duty truck electrification.

Why are diesel emissions dangerous?

Diesel emissions are made of toxic gases, the most prominent of which is NOx or nitrogen oxide, which has NO2 and nitric oxide (NO) as main components. Exposure to NOx can lead to life-changing side effects and health impacts.

When NOx reacts with other compounds, it forms acid rain, ground-level ozone (the bad ozone), and smog.

If a person is exposed to low levels of nitrogen oxides, they can experience the following health impacts:

  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Asthma/Aggravated asthma

Anyone exposed to NOx can also develop emphysema, bronchitis, and other respiratory illnesses.

If a person is exposed to elevated or high levels of nitrogen oxides, they can experience the following life-changing health effects:

  • Damaged human respiratory tract
  • Increased vulnerability to asthma and respiratory infections
  • Chronic lung disease/Severe lung damage
  • Laryngospasm
  • Asphyxiation
  • Reduced function of the senses (ex. reduced ability to smell)

Exposure to massive amounts of nitrogen oxides can also lead to premature death, which was the case of nine-year-old Ella Kissi-Debrah. The young girl and her mother lived near the South Circular Road in London, a highly polluted area. She was exposed to high levels of NOx and went through numerous hospitalisations and emergency room visits. She died in 2013 after a severe asthma attack. In December 2020, the coroner ruled her death was caused by air pollution.

The biggest source of NOx emissions is diesel-powered vehicles, which is why the Dieselgate diesel emissions scandal that started in 2015 has remained in the spotlight for years.

The diesel emissions scandal

The Dieselgate scandal initially involved only Volkswagen but eventually implicated Mercedes-Benz and other car manufacturers. The said manufacturers were alleged to have used defeat devices in their diesel vehicles.

Defeat devices are programmed to artificially reduce emissions levels during lab tests so the amounts of emitted toxic gases stay within the limits set by the World Health Organization. When driven in real-world road conditions, however, the vehicles the defeat devices are installed in revert to their default settings and emit NOx levels that are in excess of the EU and WHO limits.

Vehicles equipped with defeat devices are high pollutants, and affected car owners are encouraged to file an emission claim against them. This will allow car owners to receive compensation for the financial stress, environmental danger, and inconvenience that their manufacturer caused them.

Car owners are currently filing their Mercedes emissions claims  with a panel of emissions solicitors who can help bring  their case to court. These emissions experts are highly experienced and specially trained in winning emissions claims cases. The panel of solicitors at, for example, have brought forward several winning claims cases.  Visit their website to find out if you are eligible to claim today.

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