London - New cars are failing to filter out polluted air, a study shows. Their owners could be inhaling up to 10 million toxic particles with each breath. The air inside new models was found to be up to ten times more toxic than that on pavements.
"Drivers and their passengers can be getting very large doses of particulates if they are in a car with poor ventilation," said Nick Molden, of Emissions Analytics, the firm which carried out the tests.
"The particles are so tiny – as small as 23 millionths of a millimetre – that they are invisible but long-term exposure is very bad for drivers’ health."
The testing agency counted the polluted particles per cubic centimetre of air in the cars over four hours of urban, rural and motorway driving.
Normal air contains pollen, dust and microbes, but few are a health risk compared with the soot emitted from engines – especially diesels.
Prashant Kumar, professor of environmental engineering at Surrey University, said: "If you are stopped in congested traffic with your windows closed, as at traffic lights, then these toxins become highly concentrated."
In the research, the dirtiest vehicle was a low-priced car that recorded an average of nearly 20 000 particles in each cubic centimetre and a peak of 435 000 pcc.
As adults usually inhale 500 cubic centimetres of air per breath, someone inside would take in 10 million particles per breath. The cleanest car was an upmarket saloon with an average of 75 pcc and a maximum of 2400.
The final data will be published when enough cars have been tested to let consumers make a considered choice.
Mike Hawes, of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, told the Sunday Times there were no regulations on air quality in vehicles.
But he said the United Nations was leading discussions to introduce a new global standard.
"The industry is investing billions to engineer low-emission technology, from engines and exhausts to cabin filters," he said. Diesel owners are facing tax hikes and swingeing charges because their vehicles emit the most dangerous levels of nitrogen oxide.
Twelve million diesels are on the roads, with the fumes they produce linked to respiratory diseases.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan has announced plans to charge diesel drivers a total £24 (R397) a day to enter the centre of the capital, while councils across the UK are considering similar measures.
The Government could offer drivers scrappage payments of up to £2000 (R33 100) to get diesels off the roads.
The crackdown has been welcomed by environmental groups because scientists have linked air pollution to the premature deaths of 40 000 people a year.
The Government was due to publish a new UK air quality plan by today after the High Court threw out the first for not being good enough.
However on Friday ministers said they would ask for a postponement until after the election and instead publish the proposals by June 30.