Government delay on ‘Dieselgate’ linked to thousands of deaths

June 16, 2022

By failing to act quickly and decisively on the Dieselgate scandal, the UK government is failing to break the link between air pollution and thousands of preventable deaths. That’s what a coalition of clean air experts claimed this Clean Air Day, 16 June 2022.

Dieselgate research

Millions of vehicles were fitted with ‘defeat devices’ to appear less polluting when tested. A vehicle fitted with such a device typically emits harmful emissions 2.2 times the amount from a legally compliant vehicle.

Our research shows that this equates to an extra 10.2 million vehicles’ worth of polluting emissions in the UK.

Commenting on the research, Tom Goodhead, Managing Partner at Pogust Goodhead said: “This research shows the effect that the Dieselgate scandal has had on our country. We hope car manufacturers will now take notice of this research.

“We want justice and compensation for our clients and to hold the car companies to account so they change their approach and scandals like Dieselgate never happen again.

With research from 2019 published in the European Heart Journal estimating that air pollution plays a part in up to 64,000 early deaths in the UK,[1] the extra pollution due to ‘Dieselgate’ will almost certainly have resulted in thousands of otherwise preventable deaths.

More than seven years on from the scandal being first uncovered, the UK continues to lag behind nations such as the US, Canada, Germany, Australia and South Korea – who have all implemented a mixture of recall orders for vehicles fitted with defeat devices and agreed on compensation payments for vehicle owners.

Can the government help?

The government are being called upon to act immediately by working with car manufacturers to protect people’s health and safeguard the wider environment.

Geraint Davies MP, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group says “Seven years have now passed since the dieselgate scandal first erupted.

“Unlike other countries, the UK has missed an opportunity to reduce avoidable pollution that will have contributed to thousands of unnecessary early deaths. We need immediate action with car manufacturers to protect people’s health and safeguard the wider environment.

“We must still act to prevent disease and early deaths by the UK taking leadership in discouraging diesel cars and delivering world health organisation air quality targets.”

Parliamentary event for Clean Air Day

To mark Clean Air Day, Pogust Goodhead along with Global Action Plan, UK100, Mums For Lungs, Client Earth, Clean Cities Campaign, Asthma and Lung UK, and the APPG for Air Pollution led to a meeting in Parliament, urging the Government of the need for immediate change.

The coalition of experts, including NGOs and organisations who have joined forces to lead the fight for clean air, warn that seven years after the emissions scandal emerged there are still millions of diesel vehicles on UK roads emitting nitrous oxide (NOx) pollution several times over the legal limit.

Those parliamentarians attending will also be given data relating to their own constituencies and the excess emissions in their area due to the ‘dirty diesel’ engines currently being driven.

Pogust Goodhead, along with other law firms, has recently reached an out-of-court settlement agreement with car manufacturer Volkswagen on behalf of 91,000 claimants. Volkswagen did not accept liability as part of the £193million settlement.

Currently, the UK legal limits for NO2 and particulate matter (PM) 2.5 are now four times higher than WHO recommends. The proposed new target would still mean that thousands of citizens across the UK are likely being exposed to toxic pollution far above what we now know to be acceptable.

Clean air and health charities say that this absolutely must be fixed.

Katie Nield, clean air lawyer at environmental law charity ClientEarth, said: “Protecting the health of citizens should be authorities’ number one priority, but governments have been ignoring their duty to hold the car industry to account.

“But it’s not too late – if it genuinely wants to put people first, the UK government still has an opportunity to do that under the Environment Act.”


[1]Jos Lelieveld, Klaus Klingmüller, Andrea Pozzer, Ulrich Pöschl, Mohammed Fnais, Andreas Daiber, Thomas Münzel, “Cardiovascular disease burden from ambient air pollution in Europe reassessed using novel hazard ratio functions”, European Heart Journal, vol 40, Issue 20 (May 2019), pp 1590–1596.

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