A breath of fresh what?
Warnings over diesel exhausts puts a gloom over testing a lighter and safer BMW, says Campbell SprayECONOMICAL: The BMW 316 ES is a superbly constructed saloon with a diesel engine
'Them's the breaks" is a phrase that my partner often uses to signify why the bowl of chips has been put beyond my reach or why the dog can't eat the three-day-old leftover kebab he has discovered in the park.
It came into my mind shortly after I decided to write about the new BMW 316 ES, which is a superbly constructed saloon. It is larger than the model it replaces but lighter, safer and with an improved diesel engine, which is far more economical, claiming an "ideal world" mpg of around 65 -- great for a premium product and pretty good in the overall car park.
I had little to quibble with this excellent handling, if rather under-powered, model, except on how the extras very quickly increased the price of €36,000 to more than €44,000 and the way that the Stop/Start system shuddered too often through the car, presumably putting pressure on the battery and my nerves.
Yet my joy at the car was suddenly tempered by the report from the World Health organisation (WHO), which confirmed a niggling feeling I have had for some time and seemed to back up opponents of the massive rush to diesel brought on by the foibles of our emissions-based taxation scheme.
While the WHO previously labelled diesel exhausts as probably carcinogenic, a panel of experts working for the organisation has now concluded that the exhausts were definitely a cause of lung cancer and may also cause tumours in the bladder.
It based the findings on research in high-risk workers such as miners, railway workers and truck drivers. However, the panel said everyone should try to reduce their exposure to diesel exhaust fumes.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer, a part of the WHO, does not compare how risky different carcinogens are. But diesel exhausts are now in the same group as carcinogens ranging from wood chippings to plutonium and sunlight to alcohol.
It is thought people working in at-risk industries have about a 40 per cent increased risk of developing lung cancer. The impact on the wider population, which is exposed to diesel fumes at much lower levels and for shorter periods of time, is unknown.
Since the mid-Seventies, when one of my journalistic colleagues was Geoffrey Lean, who has done ground-breaking research in the health pollution from vehicle exhausts, I have been worried about this topic especially as I have usually lived in busy traffic areas and also as a cyclist who is often breathing in a lot of exhausts.
In the past few years, the majority of new cars bought in the country have shifted markedly to those with diesel engines. This is despite the fact that many cars do not get the proper use that diesel engines need. It is also nonsense in terms of the overall environment because of the extra process in making both the engines and fuel. The petrol/hybrid lobby have been bending my ear on this for years and drawing attention to the fact that the emissions are particularly high in the more deadly poisons.
All this doom and gloom comes as National Bike Week is launched and we are encouraged rightly to get out and start pedalling even more. It is great that bikes have made a comeback in recent years, especially helped by initiatives such as the Dublin Bike Scheme. Of course, everything has a downside and the strange fascism of some of the more ardent fans in their Lycra is rather offputting. But them's the breaks.