Environmental impact of the VW emissions scandalOctober 2016 | Articles
An increase in NOx emissions will have an adverse effect on us all. Amid reports that just 8 days into 2016, London had breached its own legal limit on air pollution (including NOx) for the entire year, the World Health Organisation has condemned air pollution as a ‘public health emergency’.
What does an increase in NOx emissions mean for our health and that of our family and friends?
In the US, the Environmental Protection Agency has asserted that breathing air with a high concentration of NO2 can irritate airways and cause respiratory issues (coughing, wheezing or difficulty breathing). It has also reported that high levels of exposure to NO2 may aggravate respiratory conditions such as asthma and increase susceptibility to respiratory infections.
In the UK, the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs has claimed that exposure to ‘particulate matter’ from emissions has been estimated to reduce average life expectancy in the UK by six months. Defra estimates¹ that the UK death rate is 4% higher due to NOx pollution, causing 23,500 extra deaths per year.
The level of NOx pollutants is estimated to cost UK public health services over £16 billion per year.
What does an increase in NOx emissions mean for our environment?
- Ground-level Ozone (also referred to as smog) – formed when NOx react with heat and sunlight. This forms Ozone, or smog, which damages vegetation and crop yields, as well as health implications (discussed later);
- Acid Rain – NOx reacts with other chemicals present in the air to form acids. These acids fall via rain and/or snow. Wind may carry these acids away from the initial site of pollution. Acid rain is responsible for damaging forests, causing lakes and streams to become acidic and poisoning wildlife in addition to damaging buildings, monuments and cars;
- Water Quality Deterioration – the nitrogen in NOx causes chemical imbalance in water and affects the levels of nutrients available to plants and animals. The increased Nitrogen from NOx emissions causes a form of water pollution, whereby algae growth is accelerated, depleting the oxygen available and reducing aquatic life;
- Contributions to Global Warming – one chemical variation of NOx, nitrous oxide, is a greenhouse gas which accumulates within the earth’s atmosphere, slowly causing the earth’s temperature to rise. Contributions to global warming will affect sea level, destroying plants and animal habitats.