Emissions Killing Thousands
By Julio Godoy
04 June, 2004
consumption of fossil fuels is killing tens of thousands of people in
Europe, new studies say.In
France alone automobile emissions kill up to 10,000 people per year,
a report by the Agency for Health and Environmental Safety (AFSSE after
its French name) says.
Studies by the World
Health Organization (WHO) and by independent environmental groups in
other European countries have come to similarly alarming conclusions.
The report says
six to 11 percent of all lung cancer cases identified in people above
30 years of age in France are caused by automobile emissions. This represents
1,713 deaths a year, it says.
The AFSSE estimates
that seven percent of all cases of cardio- respiratory diseases are
caused by automobile emissions, representing 4,876 deaths a year on
present mortality averages.
The AFSSE report
says such pollution kills 9,513 people a year in France.
In a report covering
Austria, Switzerland and France, WHO found that some 40,000 people die
every year as a result of automobile emissions or particulate matter
(PM) in scientific jargon.
is the fine airborne particles forming smog. PM materialize directly
in the atmosphere, through the oxidation of other polluting agents,
such as sulphur dioxide. nitrogen oxides and volatile organic composites.
The main source of such polluting agents is the combustion of fossil
fuel in automobiles, and in heavy industries.
PM in two categories. The fine particulate matters, or PM2.5, have a
diameter smaller than 2.5 micrometer, representing 1/20 of a hair's
diameter. A second category is PM10, meaning its diameter goes between
2.5 and 10 micrometer.
see PM2.5 as responsible for the worst damages to human health. It settles
deep into the lungs, blocking reproduction of human cells and causing
Experts expect similar
dangers in Germany which has a population as much as the three countries
included in the WHO report.
defense mechanisms fail to prevent airborne fine particulate matter
(PM) from automobile emissions from penetrating into the lungs,"
the German Council for Environmental Questions said in a report in July
The German council
report says PM2.5 is "the most important health problem linked
with air pollution."
Despite such evidence,
European governments are blocking the debate on measures to counter
health dangers from automobiles.
The French government
tried to block release of the AFSSE report last month. It argued that
the automobile industry is going through a difficult period, and that
it is inopportune to propose restrictions on traffic.
The AFSSE paper
was due to be published early in May, but the French right-wing government
tried to block publication of the report due to "the embarrassment
the survey causes to the automobile industry," said a source at
the French health ministry.
In suggesting drastic
measures to curb automobile use, the report goes against the interests
of car manufacturers, the source said.
pressure the paper was leaked to the press, and the AFSSE released it
on its Internet site.
The report proposes
a toll in cities to reduce automobile traffic. Such a toll has been
successfully introduced in London.
The report proposes
also a new tax on automobiles proportionate to their fuel consumption
and toxic emissions, and further development of railways.
In Germany, Greenpeace
launched a campaign last year calling for installation of a compulsory
filter in automobiles, particularly those running on diesel. The government
rejected the call.
A proposal by the
Green Party, junior member in the ruling coalition, for a tax on highly
polluting cars was also rejected. Germany has also failed to launch
any detailed study of the health dangers from automobile pollution.
"I really cannot
understand that Germany does not have as yet a comprehensive measuring
and controlling system for fine particulate matter," says Erich
Wichmann, director of the Epidemiological Institute at the Research
Center for Environment and Health near Munich.
"By now it
is well known that airborne particulate matter coming from the combustion
of fossil fuel is responsible for the most dangerous lung and heart
diseases," he said.
It is not just European
countries blocking information on the dangers of automobile emissions.
A 2002 report by the U.S. Environment Protection Agency (EPA) on the
health risks from automobile emissions bears the words "don't cite,
don't quote" on every page.
The warning was
prompted by fears that the automobile industry would sue the EPA. The
agency wanted strict limits on emissions back in 1977, but had to give
up under pressure from the automobile industry.
In Canada a group
of researchers at McMaster University exposed mice for 10 weeks to particle-rich
pollution from two steel mills and a nearby highway in Hamilton Ontario.
James Quinn, Christopher Somers, and Brian McCarry, found that the mice
were twice as likely to pass on mutations in DNA to their offspring
as mice breathing clean air.
has the potential to affect millions of humans worldwide, and has been
associated with an increased risk of lung cancer and genetic damage
in other tissues," Quinn, principal investigator on the study told