Air pollution costing UK purse ‘£6bn a year’

A major study from the University of Oxford and the University of Bath has revealed that air pollution caused by cars and vans are likely costing the NHS and society more than £6bn per year.

The study reports that there are over 31 million cars on the road in the UK today. Each car is driven, on average, about 12,800 km a year, totaling 400 billion km across the nation.

In addition, there are over 3.7 million vans in operation, travelling over 20,000 km each and totalling 75 billion km each year.

The study estimates that the health costs from air pollution attributed to a typical UK car over its 14-year lifetime amount is around £1,640.

The analysis also found for the first time that the health impact costs of diesel cars are significantly higher than petrol, electric and hybrid vehicles.

The findings reveal that the health damage effects associated with diesel vehicle emissions are around 20 times more than electric vehicles and at least five times more than those associated with petrol vehicles – with exposure to PM2.5 and NOX linked to an estimated 40,000 early deaths.

Dr Christian Brand, University of Oxford’s School of Geography and Environment, and co-director of the UK Energy Research Centre, said: ‘Cars and vans are responsible for 10,000 early deaths each year, and diesel vehicles are the main problem, unfortunately.

‘The valuation of health effects associated with diesel vehicles are at least five times greater than those associated with petrol vehicles, and around 20 times greater than battery electric vehicles. These results raise important questions as to how best to develop effective and fair air quality and transport strategies in urban areas.’

The research generated location-specific per vehicle costs calculated for cars and vans. The team used the Defra and COMEAP impact analysis, alongside fleet make up, pollutant emissions and miles driven to create a robust model of individual vehicle damage costs.

Chris Large, senior partner at Global Action Plan, who commissioned the study, said: ‘This report clearly illustrates the true cost of air pollution from each petrol and diesel car and van, particularly in inner cities. Swapping 1 in 4 car journeys in urban areas for walking or cycling could save over £1.1 billion in health damage costs per year.

‘Switching 1 million cars from diesel to electric would save more than £360 million per year in health costs from local air pollution. This demonstrates the impact that people’s individual choices can have, so we would look to the government to use Clean Air Day as a springboard for year-round public engagement through its new clean air strategy.’

Martin Tett, environment spokesman at the Local Government Association, said ‘If we’re to truly tackle air pollution, we need Government support to enable us to deliver effective local plans, and robust national action to help the country transition to low-emission vehicles and power generation.’

Read the report here.

Thomas Barrett

Thomas Barrett

Journalist. Follow him on Twitter

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