Busy Roads And Diesel Fumes Linked To Ill Health And Dementia


The Law Of… knowing the dangers of pollution

A new study has suggested that living close to a busy road could increase the risk of Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia by 12%.

Busy roads and diesel fumes linked to ill health and dementia

The report, published by scientists in Canada who tracked more than six million people for 11 years, adds to concerns about the dangers of being around traffic pollution, as another recent study has made a link between Alzheimer's and diesel engine fumes.

With the evidence of the dangers of busy roads, traffic pollution, and diesel engine fumes becoming irrefutable, Phillip Gower – Partner in Simpson Millar's Industrial Disease team – explains how those who work in particular industries, or those who live in built-up urban areas and cities, can protect themselves from harmful fumes.

What’s The Link Between Diesel Engines, Traffic Pollution And Alzheimer’s?

The risks associated with traffic fumes, and in particular diesel engines, are long-established.

Due to their low carbon emission, many governments initially offered tax incentives for motorists that opted for a diesel car over a petrol model – in the UK incentives were implemented in 2001, a move that more than doubled the number of diesel cars on British roads.

The move to incentivise diesel engines has since been judged as misguided, as we now understand that diesel engines emit dangerously high level of particulates – tiny soot particles – and nitrogen oxides.

These high levels of emissions are thought to link diesel engines with Alzheimer's, as a study published last year suggested that tiny soot particles and nitrogen oxides could be forming plaques on the brain that cause dementia.

As Phillip explains, the mixed messages over diesel cars have led us to a situation that endangers public health:

"The mixed messages the public have received over diesel engines over the last two decades has left us facing a public health crisis."

"Diesel engines were championed over petrol cars because of their lower carbon emissions, but now we are seeing links being established to forms of dementia and shockingly, four years ago, the World Health Organisation (WHO) raised the status of diesel fumes from probable carcinogen to carcinogen, stating that the fumes are as threatening as second-hand cigarette smoke and asbestos."

"Meanwhile, yet another study on the dangers of traffic pollution brings to mind the case of Ella Kissi-Debrah, a 9 year old girl from London who died of an asthma attack in 2013. After her death, Ella's mother sued the Greater London Authority, claiming that illegal levels of air pollution in the capital contributed to her daughter's death."

Who Could Be At Risk?

As the Canadian study shows, those living within 50 metres of a busy road are at a particularly high risk, but when we consider the wider risk of air pollution in workplaces and cities then anybody could be at risk of inhaling dangerous fumes.

Adding weight to the Canadian study is a report published in 2013 claimed that living near a busy road can increase the risk of premature death by 7%.

Globally, air pollution is attributed to more deaths per year than malaria and HIV/Aids combined. It is thought that, unless drastic action is taken, the number of people dying prematurely from air pollution will more than double by 2050.

While air pollution is a risk to the wider public, specifically those living near busy roads, there are particular members of society that could be facing an increased exposure to diesel fumes and other types of air pollutants, as Phillip explains:

"Of course, these latest findings cause concern for every member of the public who lives near a busy road; however we must give special consideration to vulnerable members of society, such as the elderly or very young children, who may be more susceptible to developing ill health from polluted air. This is particularly true amongst those with pre-existing lung or respiratory conditions."

"On top of these members of the public, we must also consider the risk of exposure to harmful diesel fumes in particular industries, as many workforces could be exposed to these fumes every day through their responsibilities at work."

"Those working in the fossil fuel industry, the transport industry, waste management, or various manufacturing industries could be at risk of exposure to polluted air; meanwhile miners and workers who are around heavy machinery every day, such as dock workers, train crews, those working in construction, or professional drivers, could be inhaling dangerous amounts of diesel fumes."

How Can I Protect Myself From Harmful Substances?

It is thought that repeated exposure to diesel fumes could increase the risk of lung cancer; exposure to petrol engine fumes does not have the same risk.

There are steps that can be taken for both members of the public and employees in an at risk industry to reduce exposure levels.

For members of the public, there are international and European obligations on standards of air quality that the Government must meet. Despite this, residents in many cities – including London, Birmingham, Leeds, Cardiff, and Manchester – will continue to breath toxic air until at least 2020.

In November last year, the High Court ruled that the Government's plans to tackle air pollution were illegal, as it was claimed that they did not do enough to combat the air pollution crisis, which MPs recognise as a public health emergency.

This failure to reduce air pollution to legal levels means that those living in large cities must take matters into their own hands and should try to avoid being in public during rush hour when there are a higher number of polluting cars on the road, or wear a face mask to try to filter some of the poor air.

For those working around diesel engines or in a place with poor air quality, the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations 2002 can offer some protection. Under the regulations, employers need to undertake assessments on the likelihood of employees being exposed to diesel fumes in the course of their daily responsibilities.

If it is found that employees' health could be endangered by exposure to diesel fumes then employers have a duty to prevent, or adequately control, exposure to fumes in the workplace.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) have published a guide on the steps that employers should take to minimise the risk of exposure to diesel fumes in the workplace; the guide also includes steps that can be taken by employees to minimise their risk of exposure.

Can I Claim Compensation For Exposure To Diesel Fumes?

With COSHH Regulations for employers and EU regulations for governments clearly outlining a responsibility to reduce exposure to diesel fumes and other harmful chemicals, those who fail in their duty of care could be liable for related diseases and illnesses.

Workers that are exposed to diesel fumes and other air pollutants could suffer from a range of industrial diseases, many of which have a long latency period and a low survival rate.

For members of the public, illegal levels of air pollution could cause pre-existing conditions to deteriorate and could cause cancer, dementia, or other serious diseases and illnesses.

If you have been diagnosed with a serious disease or illness that you believe is linked to your exposure to diesel fumes or other air pollutants at work or in the city that you live, you may be eligible for compensation that can help fund treatment and secure the financial future of your family.

As Phillip explains, gaining compensation for exposure to dangerous toxins because of is important to improve attitudes to harmful materials:

"With industrial disease compensation claims, the process is about so much more than a financial settlement. Many of our clients seek a sense of justice that can come from an employer admitting that they were negligent and that their actions caused a serious disease and illness."

"Challenging poor working practices with a compensation claim can also lead to improved standards in a workplace and can ensure that other employees do not suffer the same unfortunate fate in the future."

"For members of the public claiming against a local authority or branch of government, it is that same sense of justice that can be sought, as members of the public that suffer serious illnesses due to polluted air have been let down by policymakers that have failed in their duty to ensure an acceptable level o0f air quality."

"In tragic cases where a diagnosis is terminal and the worst happens, a compensation claim can help ensure the financial future of a client's family, which can offer some crucial piece of mind at a difficult time."

"If you, or a loved one, have suffered health problems that you suspect is linked to air pollution or contact with diesel fumes, then please get in touch so that we can help you process your diagnosis."

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