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Doctors and Environmentalists Set Up 'Sick Bays' Outside Volkswagen’s UK Headquarters

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Doctors, medics, and environmentalists have teamed up to protest outside Volkwagen’s UK headquarters, to highlight the air pollution crisis that Britain is facing. 

Activists set up “sick bays” outside the VW offices in Milton Keynes on Monday morning, blocking around 800 staff from getting to work. 

Protesters also set up a diesel pollution clinic outside the offices to offer advice and health checks to staff and members of the public. 

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It’s all part of a growing campaign to highlight the impact that air pollution is having on the health of the British public — particularly children. 

According to Greenpeace, VW is “complicit in an air pollution crisis that’s filling up emergency departments and GP surgeries.” 

“Diesel pollution is causing horrendous suffering across the UK and storing up a lifetime of troubled health for our kids,” Aarash Saleh, a doctor of respiratory medicine who was at the protest, is quoted as saying by Greenpeace. 

“If you could see it, diesel would be banned tomorrow,” Saleh added. 

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According to the environmental organisation, it targeted VW because it produces more diesel cars than any other manufacturer in the UK, reportedly selling one in five new diesel cars in Britain. 

“Volkswagen sold us a lie about diesel being clean,” said Mel Evans, a clean air campaigner for Greenpeace. “Its diesel addiction is seriously harming people’s health… Volkswagen must face up to its responsibility for deadly air pollution and commit to end diesel production now.”

Greenpeace is calling on VW to go 100% electric. The protest ended on Monday afternoon after Volkswagen agreed to a meeting with Greenpeace.

The protest coincided with the release of a poll by Greenpeace, which reportedly showed that more than two-thirds of people believe car companies should be held accountable for pollution and be made to contribute to a Clean Aid Fund. 

A Volkswagen spokesperson told the Guardian the company was aware of the protest, and that it was being handled by police.

The spokesperson said the company had “launched the most comprehensive electrification initiative in the automotive industry, Roadmap E.” The plan, announced in September 2017, would include bringing 80 new electric vehicle models to its range by 2025. 

“Roadmap E brings a 20 billion euro investment to electric vehicle technology with the goal of 25% of Volkswagen Group vehicle production comprising electrified vehicles by 2025 and 50% by 2030,” they added. 

Volkswagen was at the centre of the 2015 diesel scandal, known as “Dieselgate,” when it was revealed to be using a device designed to reduce emissions in test conditions — in an effort to evade emissions standards. 

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More than 1.2 million vehicles sold in the UK were fitted with the device. VW is now reportedly facing the largest group litigation action in UK history, brought by British consumers seeking compensation.

Meanwhile, air pollution has been linked to an estimated 40,000 early deaths in the UK every year — and 60% of British parents would support the launch of “pollution exclusion zones” outside schools.

As part of the effort to crackdown on air pollution, the UK announced in July 2017 that all new petrol and diesel cars would be banned by 2040, as part of a £4 billion plan to tackle air pollution. 

Nevertheless, the CO2 emissions of the average new car sold in the UK last year actually rose for the first time since 2000, according to a report by the Society for Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) published in February. 

It means the UK must cut CO2 emissions by about 6% every year until 2021, it it’s to meeting European Union climate change targets.