Joel Schwartz, of Harvard Medical School, presented new evidence today showing fine particles in traffic pollution have a major impact on human health.
A study in the Netherlands showed that people living close to busy roads or exposed to black particles from diesel vehicles are at a greater risk of premature death than those living nearby.
"Diesel particles are also associated with asthma in children" says Schwartz. "It's worth more to reduce one tonne of emissions from transport than from any other sources because traffic particles are emitted close to people live and breath".
Schwartz questioned the EU policy to increase the number of diesel vehicles on the roads, intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Diesel engines produce more particles than petrol engines, but their better fuel efficiency makes them attractive for climate change policies. "However, hybrid vehicles are even better for climate change and produce much less pollution," he said.
Fine particles can give rise to respiratory problems, and have been linked to increased hospital admissions for breathing difficulties, pneumonia, emphysema, asthma and influenza. They are also associated with heart disease and can reduce life expectancy following long term exposure.
There are moves to introduce special filters for particles to new cars but talks in the European Commission are still at an early stage.