Air pollution, ill health and the need for a 21st-century Model T Ford


The harmful effects of air pollution during early life deserve greater attention (Air pollution damages ‘every organ in the body’, 18 May). Ongoing research in the US has reported that exposure during pregnancy to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), a constituent of diesel exhaust, is linked to developmental delay at three years, an IQ reduction of 4-5 points at five years, increased anxiety, depression and inattention at six to seven years, a reduction in surface white matter in the brain at eight years, and delayed self-regulatory behaviour which became most significant at 11 years. These data are “preliminary” only in the sense that they have not yet been replicated. Benzo-a-pyrene (BaP) is the only PAH routinely monitored by the EU. Due to the rapid growth in the sale of diesel vehicles since 2000, levels of BaP at traffic-monitoring sites has increased by 52%.

These findings have huge implications for public health, educational attainment and the high level of mental health problems currently afflicting schoolchildren in the UK. It is beyond belief that the government’s only response is a vague commitment to halve the number of people exposed to levels above the WHO limit for small particulates by 2025. This is not even a target; it is an aspiration that is legally unenforceable.
Dr Robin Russell-Jones Scientific adviser, Geraint Davies MP Chair, all-party parliamentary group on air pollution

• Every time I read about a new electric car at the top end (Gearing up for Tesla’s Model 3?, 18 May), I can’t help but think about the Model T Ford. If we are to reduce levels of pollution in our towns and cities, surely we need a cheap, mass-produced electric car equivalent to the Model T, as opposed to a car produced for the executive market.
Christine Benning

• Join the debate – email

• Read more Guardian letters – click here to visit

• Do you have a photo you’d like to share with Guardian readers? Click here to upload it and we’ll publish the best submissions in the letters spread of our print edition