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London: Air Pollution View from Hackney, 2015
David Holt
Environment

Every Car in London Costs the NHS £8,000 Because Air Pollution Blows

We already knew that air pollution kills — but a new report has found that it’s also pretty darn expensive.

Every car in London sets the National Health Service (NHS) back about £8,000 in health costs — the equivalent of more than 2,000 pints of lager, 32,000 Freddos, or 8% of the estimated value of Meghan Markle’s wedding dress.

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The report from researchers at Oxford and Bath universities, commissioned by environmental charity Global Action Plan, found that air pollution from vehicles costs £6 billion every year, according to the Independent, with the highest bills in crowded cities with the most cars.

That’s well over triple the estimated drain on NHS resources from “health tourism”, the often-quoted term used to describe people who are not from the UK but still receive treatment.

While it costs £8,000 per car in London, the average bill for a fossil-fuel powered car with a 14-year lifespan across the whole of the UK is £1,640. In contrast, the average van with a nine-year lifespan costs £5,107.

The costs are doubled for diesel cars in London, with the health damage five times worse than petrol, and 20 times worse than electric cars. Indeed, nearly 90% of all health costs related to air pollution caused by cars come from diesel engines.

“Our research for the first time illustrates the individual cost that each car and van has on the NHS and wider society,” said Dr Alistair Hunt from the University of Bath. “Every time these vehicles are driven, they are having a significant impact on our health.”

Read More: These Are the Most Polluted Places in the UK

“Cars and vans are responsible for 10,000 early deaths each year, and diesel vehicles are the main problem unfortunately,” added Dr Christian Brand from the University of Oxford.

Air pollution causes approximately 40,000 premature deaths a year, according to the Royal College of Physicians, and nearly 9,500 early deaths in London alone. Moreover, poor air quality provokes over 6 million days of annual sick leave, costing £22.6 billion a year.

Whatever way you look at it, it’s a high price to pay.

Petrol and diesel cars cause air pollution with dangerous emissions that can cause lung and heart disease. The vehicles produce dangerous levels of nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter, or PM2.5 for short. Indeed, levels of PM2.5 in the UK are so bad they’re actually illegal — and the EU has begun legal action, with a potential fine of millions of euros.

Britain says it has a plan to fight the case, including reducing population numbers of the biggest cities and cracking down on ineffective household heating. This is after previous plans have been branded “weak” and “woefully inadequate” by environmental lawyers.

Read More: London’s Mayor Just Promised to Make the City Zero-Carbon and 50% Green by 2050

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has urged more people to take personal action against the air pollution crisis by walking to school or work and considering public transport for longer journeys. Khan also announced that all new taxis in the city will be electric, and older cars that cause more pollution will be charged to enter London.

The UK already promised in July 2017 to ban all new petrol and diesel cars by 2040.

It’s part of a £3 billion plan to tackle air pollution that doesn’t include any action on diesel engines. Critics have called it a “smokescreen” to avoid quicker solutions — and recent opponents have included Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson. The billionaire insisted on Thursday that the deadline should be brought forward to 2025, like in the Netherlands and Norway.

Read More: This British City Is Set to Become ‘World’s First Zero-Emissions Zone’

"I honestly think that we've got to bring everything forward because there are concerns that we could actually have sea levels rising by over 100ft if we lose a big chunk of the Antarctic,” Branson said. "Therefore we've got to move the process of moving to clean energy quicker than most governments around the world are doing."

There are more than 31 million cars on Britain’s roads, driven across 400 billion kilometres per year. Ahead of Clean Air Day on June 21, headed by Global Action Plan, the report is intended to draw attention to the personal changes everybody can make to reduce their contribution to the dangerous levels of air pollution.

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

Read More: UK Makes Last-Ditch Effort to Avoid Steep Air Pollution Fines

“Switching 1 million cars from diesel to electric would save more than £360 million per year in health costs from local air pollution,” he continued. “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.”

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