When walking down a busy street in any city or town in Scotland, it has likely occurred to many of us at some point that the levels of exhaust fumes we are breathing in cannot be healthy for us! There have, of course, been a number of studies identifying Scotland's most dangerous street from a "pollution level" perspective.
Hope Street in Glasgow was the last one identified as Scotland's most dangerous street recording dangerously high levels of pollution.
However, despite all this talk of the dangers of fumes exposure, little appears to have been done about it and more worryingly, there is precious little data available on which to assess the damage these fumes are causing to us on a daily basis. For years, we have been aware of the lethal connection between the exposure to asbestos and conditions such as mesothelioma, yet we remain largely in the dark about the effects of exposure to diesel fumes.
As our roads become busier and more people gravitate to live in our cities, now must be the time to consider this issue more seriously and look "under the bonnet" and engage with those parties and experts best equipped to advise on the likely effect of the exposure to diesel fumes. If any connection is established (which seems highly likely) surely that will push us into taking the necessary steps to save the city dweller from an uncertain and harmful future.
The possible carcinogenic effects of the exposure to diesel fumes have been known since at least 2012. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) identified and classified diesel exhaust emissions (DEEE's) as carcinogenic to humans. The IARC uncovered compelling evidence that the long-term exposure to DEEE's increases the risk of contracting lung cancer. Despite this re-classification, there appears to have been very little done since to limit the levels of DEEE's.
There is, of course, detailed workplace legislation in place specifically designed to protect the worker against the harmful effects of inhaling dangerous fumes and pollution. In particular, the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH) were enacted to ensure that all employers were required to assess the danger of any harmful substances and to minimise their employees' exposure. Their failure to do so would risk prosecution.
There are, of course, many people on any typical city centre street who are effectively operating in their workplace. Such people as charity street workers, traffic wardens, the police, street cleaners, and traders, are categories of people deemed to be in their workplace when on one of our city streets during working hours. How can such workers protect themselves and indeed be protected? They could, of course wear protective masks specifically designed to ensure that any harmful substances are filtered from the air as they breathe through it. Whilst such masks may be common sight in Chinese cities, it is not something we commonly see in cities here in Scotland. Why might that be? Do we not consider ourselves to be in any danger?
Such employees are, of course, entitled to expect their employers to take steps to minimise the exposure and thereby the risk and thereby the risk. Top of the agenda must be steps to limit the cause of DEEE's. It can only be beneficial to any city centre street to take cars off the roads as well as large lorries and buses. That, however, has not and is unlikely to happen to any great degree unless there is a real impetus to make it happen.
One of the reasons for such a lack of impetus is the almost total lack of claims made against employers arising out of exposure to fumes in workplaces such as our public highways. What's the reason for that? Might it be to do with the fact that it remains extremely difficult to link any condition to fumes exposure. Further, there are, of course, a myriad of reasons why someone contracts cancer. The lifestyle of many of us is such that many factors will be present such as a poor diet, smoking, drinking, taking recreational drugs any one of which is likely to be considered as a cancer cause above the fact the victim spent a good portion of his/her life living and working in a busy street and thereby being exposed to high levels of pollution on a daily basis.
As well as the possibility of contracting cancer, it is of yet more concern that a recent study by Kings College London found that as many as one in 14 cases of dementia, including Alzheimer's disease, may be attributable to air pollution. The report concluded that those living in the most polluted areas were 40% more likely to be diagnosed with dementia. Harvard scientists also found that men who have a higher exposure to diesel emissions for 5-10 years were at least 20% more likely to develop motor neurone disease than those with no exposure.
It seems very clear that urgent action is required to clean up our polluted streets. There are far too many of these streets with unacceptably high levels of pollution. Such levels very likely put at risk all those using the street particularly workers who could well be working for eight hours per day - 48 weeks of the year.
So, what is it going to take to bring this issue further up the agenda? It is apparent that, until such time as a body of experts are prepared to link the exposure to diesel fumes with particular forms of cancer, any such claims litigated in court, are unlikely to get beyond first base. If, however the connection can be established, it may then be that the courts will being to look at such claims a lot more seriously. At that point, it is likely that the corporate world will recognise there is a potential financial exposure to them. Call me cynical but until such times as these claims are established, the corporate and government powers will continue to "let sleeping dogs lie". They are playing with people's lives and this cannot be allowed to continue.
If you think you may have a claim, you can contact our specialist team for advice to discuss the matter on 0800 988 8082 or complete our online enquiry form and a member of our team will get back to you right away.