What Is Nitrogen Oxide Pollution and How Does It Affect Us?

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On its own, nitrogen (N) is tasteless, colourless, odourless, and non-flammable. It is non-combustible and plays a vital role in keeping life on Earth possible. Approximately 78% of the Earth’s atmosphere is made up of nitrogen.

Another crucial life element is oxygen (O), which is an oxidising, non-metal, and reactive agent. Like nitrogen, oxygen is also present in the atmosphere and vital to life on Earth.

Separate from each other, these two elements are pretty normal, but it’s an altogether different story when they meet.

When nitrogen and oxygen combine, they form a variety of oxides during combustion. However, this only happens when temperatures are high. When temperature is normal, nitrogen and oxygen do not spark. One of the combinations produced is nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and nitric oxide (NO). Together, they are known as nitrogen oxides (NOx).

Nitrogen oxides are also formed through lightning bolts, but in highly urbanised settings; these are released by road traffic, particularly fuel combustion from vehicles.

Nitrogen pollution

NOx has dangerous effects on the environment and on human health. Exposure to high volumes of nitrogen oxides pollutes the air with toxic emissions. This is why various government authorities in the UK (and Europe) set legal limits on the volume of NOx emitted by vehicles. In 2019, an air quality assessment revealed that the UK was way over the safe limit, particularly in roadside areas in urban settings.

As such, the National Emission Ceilings Regulations or NECR and the revised CLRTAP (Convention on Long Range Transboundary Air Pollution) required the United Kingdom to bring down its level of NOx emissions by 73% compared to 2005 emissions numbers.

Although reports show that NOx levels have been significantly reduced by at least 71% since 1970, this isn’t something to celebrate about. Given the volume of vehicles plying the UK roads, the current nitrogen oxides emissions are higher than expected or allowed. About 33% of NOx emissions in 2019 in the UK were from road transport.

Nitrogen oxides effects on the environment and humans

When nitrogen oxides react, they form acid rain and smog. NOx is also responsible for forming particulate matters (PM) that are extremely dangerous for the environment.

Additionally, nitrogen oxides may also lead to ozone formation. Ozone can damage not only the environment but also vegetation in general. This gas is harmful to human health and is known to cause asthma attacks, respiratory tract inflammation, and throat-related problems.

Although the nitric oxide in NOx, at ambient conditions, do not have hazardous effects on human health, regular exposure – no matter the level or amount – can result in several illnesses and health problems. Some of these include metabolic disorders, diarrhoea, vomiting, nausea, low blood pressure, hematologic side effects, and respiratory conditions.

Exposure to high levels of nitrogen dioxide (an essential element in NOx) can lead to serious health problems such as irreversible respiratory system damage, inflammation of the airways, and more intense asthma attacks for those who already have them. NO2 exposure can also cause flu, colds, bronchitis, coughing, wheezing, colds, and other respiratory problems.

Emissions and their part in pollution

NOx emissions from vehicles make up a large part of the total volume of emissions in Europe. In the UK alone, nitrogen oxides emitted amount to more or less 2.2 million tonnes every year, with one half attributed to motor/road vehicles.

Initially, diesel vehicles were thought to be safe for the environment. This changed in 2015 when the Dieselgate scandal broke and Volkswagen was thrust into the spotlight for allegedly installing defeat devices on their diesel vehicles.

Defeat devices are cheat software that manipulate emissions test results. The device shows safe levels of NOx emissions during tests. However, in real world driving conditions, nitrogen oxides emitted are way over the legal limits in the UK and Europe. As such, car owners were lied to as Volkswagen made them believe they were helping keep the environment safe from air pollutants.

Aside from Volkswagen, numerous other manufacturers were also implicated in the diesel emission scandal. This includes Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Porsche, Audi, Nissan, Jeep, Ford, Citroen, Vauxhall, Alfa Romeo, Fiat, Renault, Peugeot, and Suzuki.

The Dieselgate scandal, which is still going on, contributes significantly to the pollutants floating in the UK and Europe air. Millions of vehicles are allegedly fitted with the cheat device, so one can imagine the volume of NOx emissions these have produced. This is why authorities are seriously coordinating with the affected manufacturers. Aside from paying fines and handing car owners their diesel emission compensation, the car manufacturers are also required to recall all their vehicles with defeat devices so these can be upgraded with an emissions-compliant engine.

What to do

If you want to do your part in reducing NOx emissions in the UK and Europe, you can start by checking if your vehicle is equipped with a defeat device. Visit your manufacturer’s website and find the list of affected vehicles.

Once you confirm that your vehicle is on the list, get in touch with a team of emissions compensation experts that can help you get your emissions compensation claim.

If you want to work with professional, experienced, and dedicated experts, get in touch with Emissions.co.uk. They are currently bringing forward Mercedes emission claims.