The World Health Organization says that 92 percent of the world's population lives in areas of high air pollution.
Experts say much of that pollution comes from vehicles fueled by diesel. Many cities in Europe have called for ending the production of diesel cars. They hope to replace them with electric vehicles as battery life for those vehicles improves.
London is one of the most heavily polluted cities in Europe. Levels of harmful gases in the city are regularly higher than limits set by the European Union.
Martin Williams, with King’s College London, says pedestrians often do not realize how close they are to air pollution sources because they cannot see them.
"One of the difficulties of getting the message across to the public at large these days is that air pollution, although it's a major public health problem, is actually invisible. Not like the smogs of the 1950s and 60s when not only could you see it, you could barely see anything else."
Williams adds that toxic gases from diesel cars have led to public health concerns. He says people across Great Britain have died too early because of the pollution.
"The main problem that you are breathing in are the particulates, the soot largely from diesel exhausts, which is the primary problem as far as public health is concerned. And that's responsible for maybe up to around 30,000 premature deaths across Britain. The other pollutant that's more recently become an issue is nitrogen dioxide, again largely from diesel."
Last year, officials discovered that German carmaker Volkswagen attempted to cheat on emissions tests on its vehicles. The incident became known as ‘diesel-gate.’
Areeba Hamid is with the environmental group Greenpeace. She says that incident is why many in the automobile industry want to produce electric cars.
"It's quite clear that the car industry is feeling the pressure of a public health crisis owing to air pollution in big cities in particular and the aftermath of the diesel-gate' scandal, which is the reason why it's looking to produce new electric models."
At the Paris Motor Show in September, many of the vehicles on display were electric cars. Volkswagen announced it aims to sell two to three million electric vehicles each year by 2025.
Experts say electric cars could offer the answer to air pollution in major cities. They add, however, that the electricity should be created using renewable energy.
I’m Jonathan Evans.
VOA’s Henry Ridgwell reported this story from London. Jonathan Evans adapted it for Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor.
Words in this Story
emissions – n. harmful substances released into the air by automobiles
pedestrian – n. a person who is walking in a city, along a road, etc.
renewable – adj. restored or replaced by natural processes; able to be replaced by nature
premature –adj. too early, before its usual time
smog –n. fog mixed with smoke; a cloud of dirty air from cars, factories, etc. that is usually found in cities