Health groups call on the leaders of the Western Balkan countries to harmonize national air quality standards with the World Health Organization Global air quality guidelines. Health experts should be actively involved in these decision-making processes to ensure the timely integration of public health measures into environmental policies. Compliance with WHO recommendations brings multiple benefits – reduced incidence of chronic diseases and premature deaths, reduced overall health costs and, most importantly, better health and higher productivity of people.
Defeat devices in diesel vehicles have been causing unduly high emission rates of nitrous oxides, which cause serious effects on public health in Germany. According to health experts these effects have been negated, and important aspects have been omitted in the final report of the 5th investigative commission of the German parliament on this subject which is due to be debated by deputies on Friday 30 June. Health groups are thus calling on delegates to reject the report in its current version and are stressing a special responsibility of policymakers to reduce the health burden.
Commenting on the report Julia Gogolewska, Senior Policy Officer at the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL), said: ”The final report downplays the damage caused by defeat devices. The health effects from these undue emissions can in fact be quantified in view of the current level of scientific understanding. And the German government has to accept that its response to the revelations about defeat devices will be judged against these numbers.”
In a statement sent to the German parliamentarians the day after the report of the committee was published, four public health and scientific associations had dissented the report’s conclusions on the health effects. In their common statement, the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) together with the European Respiratory Society (ERS), the European Council of the International Society for Environmental Epidemiology (ISEE), as well as the German Society of Hygiene, Environmental and Public Health Sciences (GHUP) stressed that the health effects of nitrogen dioxide were well documented by scientific literature.
“The report loses its objectivity by negating the evidence for health effects from nitrogen dioxide, which have been reported by a large number of epidemiological studies from various countries, arriving at similar conclusions. In addition, evidence from toxicology has not been considered in the report”, said Prof Barbara Hoffmann of the ERS. “It is incomprehensible how the committee arrived at conclusions that are at odds with the expert opinion of the German federal environment agency, the World Health Organization and further expert bodies.”
The expert statement is based on the full body of scientific literature from the fields of epidemiology and toxicology as well as recent reviews by the World Health Organization as well as the US Environmental Protection Agency. The latter two confirmed that especially the association between short-term exposure with nitrogen dioxide and increased mortality and hospital admissions as well as higher risks of respiratory diseases such as asthma were well documented and plausibly explained by toxicological evidence. Even concentrations well below the current legal limit for nitrogen dioxide of 40µg/m3 would be relevant. According to newest reports by the German federal environment agency the legal limit is being exceeded at more than half of urban monitoring stations at traffic hot spots. Especially the high emissions of nitrous oxides from traffic were an important cause. Other studiesrecently released had attributed specific numbers of premature deaths to the excess nitrous oxide emissions due to defeat devices.