Anti-diesel campaigners and medics block hundreds of Volkswagen staff from head office

| 21st August 2018
Activists and medics outside Volkswagen's UK headquarters
A group of medics and activists shut down Volkswagen's UK headquarters, turning it into an emergency diesel pollution clinic. MARIANNE BROOKER reports

As the UK’s biggest seller of diesel cars, Volkswagen is complicit in an air pollution crisis that’s filling up emergency departments and GP surgeries.

Greenpeace air pollution campaigners and medical professionals blocked more than 800 Volkswagen staff from entering the company’s head office in Milton Keynes yesterday morning.

Arriving at 7am, they barricaded the entrances with sick bay furniture and set up a diesel pollution clinic outside to offer advice and health checks to staff and members of the public.

Greenpeace is demanding Volkswagen commit to stop producing diesel cars and go 100% electric.

Diesel addiction

Mel Evans, clean air campaigner at Greenpeace, said: “As the UK’s biggest seller of diesel cars, Volkswagen is complicit in an air pollution crisis that’s filling up emergency departments and GP surgeries.

“Volkswagen sold us a lie about diesel being clean. Its diesel addiction is seriously harming people’s health. Volkswagen won’t meet with us and won’t listen. So today we’ve brought the truth about diesel to its doorstep.  

“Volkswagen must face up to its responsibility for deadly air pollution and commit to end diesel production now.”   

Volkswagen sells the most diesel cars in the UK; one in five new diesel cars are VW Group.

More than two-thirds of people believe car companies, like Volkswagen, should be held to account for toxic diesel pollution and be made to contribute to a Clean Air Fund, according to a poll released by Greenpeace today. 

Peaceful blockade

Aarash Saleh, 33, a doctor in respiratory medicine from Manchester, working in London, who was at the protest yesterday, said: “Diesel pollution is causing horrendous suffering across the UK and storing up a lifetime of troubled health for our kids. If you could see it, diesel would be banned tomorrow.” 

The peaceful blockade at VW’s UK head office came as concerns are growing about the health impacts of air pollution.

recent study found an “absolutely clear” link between episodes of high air pollution and spikes in hospital admissions and visit to GPs.

The impact of air pollution is particularly acute for children. High exposure to polluted air at a young age can cause chronic health problems that last a lifetime, with research showing negative effects for lung function, respiratory issues like asthma and even stunted lung growth. 

Air pollution from cars and vans costs £6 billion in damage to health each year in the UK; equivalent to the entire budget of NHS Wales.

Legal limits

Levels of harmful nitrogen dioxide air pollution in the UK have broken legal limits every year since 2010 – and diesel vehicles are responsible for 90% of toxic NOx coming from roads.

In September 2017 Greenpeace launched the campaign targeting VW’s continued promotion of polluting diesel by blocking a major import route bringing Volkswagen diesel cars into the UK. VW’s global competitors ToyotaNissanVolvo and Fiat-Chrysler are already reported to be ending diesel production in Europe.

Volkswagen was caught cheating on emissions tests by using a defeat device designed to reduce emissions in test conditions, but has faced no civil or criminal charges in the UK.

More than 1.2 million vehicles sold in the UK were fitted with this device by VW, designed to mislead the public and push cars which pump out dangerous levels of air pollution onto UK roads.

Volkswagen is now facing the largest group litigation action in UK history, brought by British consumers seeking compensation over the Dieselgate emissions scandal. Affected consumers are still able to join the suit before the 26 October deadline.

This Author

Marianne Brooker is a contributing editor for The Ecologist. This story is based on a press release from Greenpeace.

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