But what actually is the problem?

Nearly 40 million people in the UK are living in areas where illegal levels of air pollution from diesel vehicles risk damaging their health, according to analysis commissioned by the Labour party.

The extent of the air pollution crisis nationally is exposed in the data which shows 59% of the population are living in towns and cities where nitrogen dioxide (NO2) pollution breaches the lawful level of 40 microgrammes per cubic metre of air.

Is it that the pollution is too high? Or is it that the definition of what’s a legal pollution level is too low?

This is one of my myriad areas of ignorance. What is actually a reasonable pollution limit for NOx? I have absolutely no idea at all whether 40 microgrammes is reasonable or whether Scrobodnik would be better. Or elebenty tonnes.

Although it wouldn’t surprise me at all to find that the EU set levels were something not really achievable in an industrial society…..

24 thoughts on “But what actually is the problem?”

  1. That ZaNu is wasting election time on eco-horseshit like this is encouraging.

    But still not grounds for complacency.

  2. I’ve done a few minutes’ Googling (who says they don’t contribute to society?) and come up with this…
    This suggests a level of as little as 10ppm can be immediately harmful and levels of 150+ppm can be lethal in a pretty short timescale (hours not days)

    10 ppm comverts to 19mg/m3 of air.


    So NO2 appears to be nasty stuff. But then again, this is Google and I’m no chemist – I don’t understand half of what that CDC report is saying.

  3. “according to analysis commissioned by the Labour party”

    Given the nation’s great sponsor of diesel cars, maybe we should call them “Gordons” or “Browns”.

  4. And whatever the problem, it’s been regulated by the EU for yonks. Unless Labour express enthusiasm for leaving said organisation they’re just blowing smoke.

  5. “This suggests a level of as little as 10ppm can be immediately harmful and levels of 150+ppm can be lethal in a pretty short timescale (hours not days)

    10 ppm comverts to 19mg/m3 of air.

    Don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve certainly been present when diesel engines have been run for considerable periods in semi-confined spaces. My mate’s garage workshop with the doors open, for a start. And with diesels that were manufactured long before anyone was worrying about NxO levels. If we’re talking 150ppm (285mg/m3?) as being lethal & they’re bitchin’ about 40mg/m3 in the open air, I can only presume I’m typing this from a coffin somewhere in Finchley cemetery. Wonders of modern post-mortem interweb technology eh?

  6. BiS
    I’m not convinced by those number myself. Short term exposure at 19mg/m3 can harmful but we set a limit for LONG term average exposure at 40?

    I showed my workings, partly because I hope someone can show me where I’ve got it wrong.

  7. @Geoff Taylor
    At one time I used to work with cyanide salts. Due to often neglecting to wear gloves & forgetting to wash hands before tucking into a bacon sandwich I occasionally contracted cyanide poisoning. Slight headache & a general yuck feeling for a few minutes. I expect I’m officially dead from that as well. I suspect humanity’s somewhat more robust in the wild than under lab conditions. University grads were always a feeble bunch, though, weren’t they?

  8. As for the *mechanism* for these deaths. Are we seeing a rise in lung diseases of particular sorts? (No). How would they be causing heart diseases?

    It’s a complete beat-up, based on biased espistemological studies. The ones I’ve seen suggest we have very little to fear.

  9. Er, EU limit 40 micrograms/cu m, and 19 milligrams/cu m is harmful, so EU limit is about 500 times lower than ‘immedately harmful’. How this equates to actual measured levels in cities under inversions I haven’t bothered to google.

  10. Mmmm, 40 microgrammes per cubic metre is the legal limit.
    That’s about 475 times less than the immediately harmful level of 19 milligrammes per cubic metre.
    Unless my units are out by a factor of 1000.

  11. Wasn’t it Ross McKitrick who ran the models that the CDC used to generate those scary numbers but inputting the pollution rates that existed back in the 90s. The models proved that everyone who died in those years died of PM pollution plus another 200,000 who should have died.

    In other words, the numbers are junk. (Like all the numbers associated with eco scares.)

  12. So Much For Subtlety

    We need a reasonable amount of NO in the air we breath if only because it is vital for heart function (and of course erections – viagra works on the receptors that bind with NO to cause blood dilation and it started out as a heart treatment).

    So I expect the wheel will come in full circle and at least some of the people here will survive to live in a electric-car dystopian future – where NxO is held to be vital to our health and people condemn the auto industry for removing it.

  13. What is the problem? It’s that the political and media classes in London have noticed that diesel fumes are unpleasant to breathe. They want them reduced, regardless of any actual health evidence.

    We’re a rich country and getting richer: it’s normal for people to want more pleasant air. Whether the proposed solution passes a cost/benefit ratio is rarely asked.

  14. So Much For Subtlety

    Anyone care to guess what the NOX levels were during WW2? During WW1? While Victoria was still on the Throne?

    Somehow I think we may be a little bit healthier than they were. I also think that a little bit of smog didn’t stop them doing great things that their effeminate degenerate heirs can only dream of.

  15. A cubic meter of air is 1000 liters or 44.6 moles. Call if 45.

    10 ppm of that is 0.000446 or 446 micro-mole

    Mollecular mass of no2 is 46. So 46 grams per mole. 446 micro-moles should have a mass of 0.0205 grams or 20.5 miligrams or 20500 micrograms.

    40 is well below 20,500.

  16. @Gamecock it’s my understanding that the EPA were in no hurry to go after VW – the test mess had been gathering dust on a shelf for TWO years before the pushy witless twerp from the EPA flooded Colorado mountain rivers with several cubic kilometres of bright yellow toxic mine tailings – iirc the VW story was full bore in under 48 hours….. as they say over there – go figure…

  17. L-Citruline and L-Arginine amino acids can be taken to increase the amount of NOX in your body and help dilate blood vessels with benefit to High Blood Pressure sufferers.

    Can’t be that deadly.

  18. Dear Mr Worstall

    The Guardian articles read like an exercise in hyper hysteria.

    Your linked article provides no numbers – merely ‘exceeds’ legal limits and egregious conflation of ‘legal’ and ‘lawful’ thrown in for good measure.

    The following article linked from the above article actually quotes the figure for one nursery (doesn’t say what kind of nursery though) – 118.19µg/m3:


    It seems to be a bit of self-publicity by a Labour MP.

    Our beloved EU’s very own rules:


    Nitrogen dioxide – 200 µg/m3 averaged over 1 hour, permitted exceedences (sic) per year – 18.

    Nitrogen dioxide – 40 µg/m3 averaged over 1 year.

    Says it all.

    Lightning creates nitrogen dioxide, which combines with water vapour to form nitric oxide, which then fertilises the land and sea. Total NO2 from lightning is estimated at 5-10 gigatonnes a year. I wonder how that compares with traffic generated NO2.



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