The Volkswagen emissions scandal may seem like old news but it brought back to the limelight a word rarely linked to the world of personal injury- pollution.
For many years, we have represented clients harmed by the release of dangerous particles into the air, mostly through working in areas where asbestos was present. Its use left a terrible legacy of disease, death and harm to many in Scotland. Many of our workplaces are now much healthier and regulation of workplaces has improved greatly. However as awareness of the need for a clean working environment has increased, exposure to dangerous particles on our streets, on public transport and even in our cars has been largely ignored.
In Scotland, air pollution in our towns and cities may seem nothing compared to the global hotspots of New Delhi or Beijing. Figures suggest it still presents a palpable risk we may ignore at our peril. Edinburgh’s St John’s Road, followed by Hope Street in Glasgow are the most polluted streets according to Friends of the Earth. Levels of recorded nitrogen dioxide and small particles, linked with heart attacks, asthma and stroke are higher than EU limits in most of Scotland’s city centres.
I tend to avoid Glasgow’s Hope Street during the day as it is often a nose to tail queue of double decker buses. The street was built for a few horses and carts at best to navigate its tight walls. While the fuel efficiency and filtering of those buses is probably better than ever, the number of buses on the roads does not appear to fall, nor does the regulation of where and how long they idle on busy streets.
Interestingly a recent BBC article observed that diesel- largely seen as a less polluting fuel- fume exposure can take place to those on public transport as well as those around it. With much of Scotland’s rail network diesel fuelled (incredibly even the busy Glasgow-Edinburgh mainline-not electrified, although in the process of being upgraded), many trains emit large volumes of diesel particles which train passengers are exposed to. Dangerous? The long term effects are not widely known yet but it seems that those letting the train take the strain may not be any better off than those in their cars. For sufferers of asthma and lung related diseases it is difficult to be encouraged by the news.
Personal injury claims in Scotland have yet to be aimed at polluters perhaps because identifying who they are is a real challenge. It seems unlikely to me that a court would be satisfied on the basis of available research that a particular disease could be linked solely to air pollution. Having witnessed the long, hard-fought fight of asbestos sufferers to obtain compensation, I’m a little pessimistic those who have developed illness through exposure to air pollution will see recompense any time soon. I wonder whether government policy on the environment will be enough to defuse the timebomb before it explodes?