Bad science, feeding emotive headlines, won’t help us to clean our air!

Martin Hetzel, Medical Director of the Red Cross Hospital, Stuttgart – Germany said:

“There is no such thing as a fine particulate disease of the lung or heart, and you don’t come across such a thing as nitrogen dioxide disease of lung or heart in hospital. They don’t exist. Fine particulate matter or NO2 hasn’t caused a single death. These are abstract mathematical models.”

“It’s simply not plausible that such small concentrations of NO2 and fine particulate matter would cause the harm and death that are being publicized at the moment.”

The Kloster Grafshaft Hospital, a former Benedictine Monastery used for fresh air recuperation after WWII, specialises in respiratory care. For years Dieter Kohler, a former president of the Respiratory Society, was Medical Director there.

He is also sceptical about the German Environmental Agency’s data. He said: ‘They compared 2 groups, rural and city dwellers with respect to NO2, and they pinpoint a small difference in life expectancy.’

‘The people in the country live a bit longer but that might be because they exercise a bit more, drink less alcohol and smoke less, or a range of other factors. Attributing the difference to nitrogen dioxide or fine particulate matter isn’t scientific.’

They take a statistical correlation and turn it into a causal connection without proof. On the contrary it’s very easy to refute that connection’.

‘You would need to conduct tests with people exposed to high quantities of NO2 and fine particulates over many years to get more precise findings. That’s impossible for ethical reasons,’ but Kohler points out people are taking part in a kind of voluntary experiment of a similar nature.

Jurgen Resch from the German Environmental Agency, GEA, wants the laws on air pollution to be tightened up. ‘this limit is actually far too lax. 800,000 people get sick each year because of NO2‘, according to GEA.

But Martin Hetzel responded: ‘that’s populism. Can’t be taken seriously, it is populism driven by ideology. Of course, you might have the idea, and that’s the ideology behind all of this of banishing cars from cities. You can do that, but you shouldn’t engineer that by setting legal limits without any basis in science.’

Otherwise the first diesel emissions scandal will be followed by a 2nd diesel scandal. If the existing legal requirements aren’t based on reliable scientific evidence, then it’s a mistake. And mistakes are always rectified at some point’.

There is no downside in aspiring to reduce emissions, but we need to apply real numbers and real science to this debate.  Badly phrased headline figures from official but scientifically unfounded reports are persistently used to terrify millions of consumers, especially parents. 

If we can’t even accurately understand the numbers what hope do we have, to really improve our air quality in a meaningful and proportionate way?  

Since there is no demonstrable relationship between local air quality and life expectancy either, which is at its highest in some highly polluted areas of Britain such as central London, and below average in many less polluted localities such as North West Scotland and Northern Ireland, anti-car rhetoric is dogmatic rather than scientifically based.

Air quality, as affected by traffic, is irrelevant to health versus other factors such as wealth, access to health provision and diet. 

The irony now becomes even more stark. According to the University of Surrey, Particulate Matter (PMs) is found at concentrations 600% higher in the London Underground than when travelling along a road.

In other reports this figure is stated as much as 2900% higher. If PMs really are bad for us, the authorities are harming motorists’ health further by trying to force them into the underground. If health claims about PMs are correct, those authorities could be prosecuted for forcing the riding and driving public into a far less healthy environment.

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