Air pollution and the Volkswagen emissions scandal

Nitrogen dioxide discharged by diesel engines contributed to an estimated 23,500 air pollution-related deaths according to recent data. In the wake of the Volkswagen scandal, questions have been raised following revelations that the government moved to block new EU emissions laws.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has advised British MEPs not to support EU legislation that would empower states to impose surprise inspections on car emissions. Such checks could have caught VW's manipulation of emissions tests.

This news follows a report that the Department of Transport ignored evidence of fraud in the car industry that was presented to it a year ago,

Petrol and diesel emissions reducing life expectancy

Estimates suggest that there are 29,000 deaths per year attributable to air pollution within the UK, including those caused by nitrogen dioxide discharged by diesel engines.

Existing heart conditions can be worsened by poor-quality air and diesel and petrol emissions may increase the likelihood of heart attacks, coronary artery disease, and strokes amongst vulnerable people, reducing life expectancy.

Long-term exposure may increase respiratory infections and symptoms in the general population, especially in children who may have decreased lung function.

Those living in areas with a large amount of traffic are at particular risk, with air pollution responsible for as many as 10,000 deaths a year in London alone.

With 100m working days lost across the EU every year through illnesses such as asthma, and the cost of treating air pollution illness estimated to cost the NHS between £10 and £15 billion per year.

The impact on concerned Volkswagen car owners

With the EU introduction of engine emission standards in the early 1990s, there have been significant improvements in emissions of nitrogen dioxides, particulates and hydrocarbons from passenger cars, vans and trucks.

By fitting some of its diesel cars with devices to conceal the real level of pollutants being emitted, VW reportedly cheated emissions tests.

With an established link between increased diesel emissions and the risk to health it is likely that customers who have bought these cars may find the vehicle's value has decreased.

They may be faced with increased fuel costs, plus a rise in road tax when the true emissions are assessed. Future repairs may also be more expensive.

Which Volkswagen cars are affected?

The VW Group includes Skoda, Audi and Seat as well as Volkswagen. All use the same engine type so may have failed the same emissions tests. If the car has a Type EA189 diesel engine it may be one of those affected.

The information is contained in the V5C documents and service books, or through VW UK customer care.

Is it possible to claim compensation?

With action already started in the USA, the UK may shortly follow suit. Solicitors have reported multiple VW car owners have been in contact to discuss their options.

VW owners who have purchased one of these vehicles may have valid claims for breach of contract as a result of misrepresentations relating to emissions. They may be entitled to compensation, through being financially out of pocket.

If it is confirmed that the vehicle is affected it is worth enquiring about compensation although amounts payable cannot yet be determined and may be dependent on make, model, and original cost of the vehicle.

Air pollution-related illnesses

Although measures are in place to reduce air pollution, London and several other British cities have reportedly failed to meet EU standards on nitrogen dioxide levels since 2010.

1,148 of London's schools are within 150 metres of pollution hotspots, according to campaign group Clean Air in London.

It is expected that the limits will not be met in London until at least 2025.