The Poor Are Disproportionately Affected by Pollution, Study Shows

A study published by researchers from the University of Virginia has shown evidence that air pollution disproportionately affects minority and poor communities in the US.

Conducted using satellites that measured nitrogen dioxide (NO2) emissions in Los Angeles, New Jersey, Newark, Phoenix, and other cities in the United States, the study indicated that NO2 pollution in communities of colour and low-income neighbourhoods is at least 28% higher than the toxic air volume in mostly-white and higher-income communities.

Part of the reason for the disparity is how the highways and roads were positioned in areas that most often cut across minority and poor neighbourhoods. The more alarming reason, as the study discovered, is the diesel-powered vehicles that pass through the neighbourhoods. Diesel vehicles are major contributors to NO2 emissions, which impact the environment and human health. Diesel-powered trucks also release other particulates and gases that are just as harmful as NO2.

Researchers, including the study authors, are encouraging policymakers and the government to formulate stricter, more focused policies for limiting and eventually eliminating air quality disparities among neighbourhoods. A good example of this would be converting heavy-duty vehicles (specifically buses and trucks) into electric-powered ones, especially when compared to passenger vehicles. Although most cities and states in the US already have EV plans in place, the priority is always light-duty vehicles. Heavy-duty trucks are almost always at the bottom of the list.

Another well-thought-out suggestion is the improvement and stricter implementation of emissions standards for heavy-duty trucks and other vehicles. The US government has started its action plan with the formulation of new rules for reducing harmful pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions, particularly on heavy-duty vehicles.

New York, California, and some other states have also been working on regulations and programs aimed at bringing down NOx emissions levels by at least 90% in 2027.

UK emissions

In the UK, NOx emissions are also a major issue. Although no specific studies have been published in terms of air quality disparities in certain neighbourhoods, many researchers have discovered valuable information that can help governments, organisations, campaigners, and advocates to understand the problem and find possible solutions.

One of the things that many studies have highlighted is the effect of NOx emissions on the environment and human health. NOx is primarily emitted through road transport, specifically from diesel vehicles. It has nitric oxide (NO) and NO2 as its main elements and is known as a catalyst for producing acid rain, smog, and ground-level ozone. All three are significant contributors to air pollution, with the latter being dangerous to vegetation.

Additionally, persons who are regularly exposed to NOx emissions can increase incidents of depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. In some cases, NOx may affect a person’s cognitive function, making them more susceptible to dementia.

Exposure to NOx emissions has various negative impacts on human health. If exposure is low-level, the common effects include asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, nausea and vomiting, chronic headaches, and other respiratory ailments. Fluid can also form in the lungs, and an exposed person will often find it difficult to breathe.

If a person is exposed to higher levels of nitrogen oxide emissions, the complications can be severe depending on the circumstances of their situation. Asphyxia is a common health impact, and so is vocal cords spasm (also called laryngospasm). NOx emissions make a person more susceptible to life-changing diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular illnesses.

Over the years, numerous reports have also linked NOx emissions – and air pollution in general – to thousands of premature deaths, including that of Ella Adoo Kissi-Debrah, a young girl who died in 2013 in the UK due to exposure to toxic air.

Toxic emissions have increased over the years, especially after the Dieselgate diesel emissions scandal in 2015.

What happened during the Dieselgate scandal?

In September 2015, the global automotive industry was taken by surprise after the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the California Air Resources Board called out the Volkswagen Group for the alleged use of defeat devices in their diesel vehicles in the US. The devices are cheat software used to manipulate vehicles’ emissions testing.

The devices can tell when a vehicle is undergoing testing. They then temporarily reduce the vehicle’s emissions to within the WHO-regulated limits. However, when the vehicle is driven on real roads, it switches to its default settings, emitting considerable amounts of NOx. Thus, the vehicle is a pollutant and does not adhere to emissions standards.

Aside from Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Renault, other car manufacturers have also been found to use defeat devices to manipulate emissions.

Affected car owners are encouraged to make a diesel emissions claim against their carmaker for the deceit and violation of emissions standards.

Make a diesel claim

If you think you are affected by the diesel emissions scandal, you should make a claim and bring your carmaker to court. A successful claim will give you compensation worth several thousands of pounds.

Not everyone who owns an affected vehicle can file a diesel claim, though. You’ll have to verify your eligibility first with Do so now so you can start making your claim.