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

The Dieselgate scandal that erupted in September 2015 involved the use of defeat devices on diesel vehicles. These devices were made to cheat and manipulate emissions when a vehicle is being tested. Instead of reflecting the correct emissions level, the devices illegally suppress emissions so they will appear to be within the World Health Organization or WHO limits.

Defeat devices only suppress emissions when a vehicle is in lab testing, so when it is taken out and driven in real-world conditions, the vehicle automatically reverts to its default emission levels, which exceed the legal limit set by the WHO and EU. So, essentially, manufacturers who sold the vehicles mis-sold the diesel cars and lied to their clients. Car owners believed they were driving safe, clean, and environmentally-friendly vehicles. The truth, however, was that they were significantly contributing more air pollution as their vehicles emitted excess levels of NOx or nitrogen oxides.

This scam has affected – and continues to affect – thousands upon thousands of car owners. Additionally, although Volkswagen was the only car manufacturer that the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) implicated in the scandal, other manufacturers were soon thrust into the spotlight when defeat devices were also allegedly found in their diesel vehicles. These carmakers included Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Alfa Romeo, Porsche, Audi, Nissan, Jeep, Suzuki, Peugeot, Renault, Citroën, and Fiat, among others.

Diesel emissions are one of the most dangerous sources of air pollution because they emit nitrogen oxides, which are harmful not only to the environment but to human health as well.

What are nitrogen oxides?

Nitrogen and oxygen coming from the air combine or interact when there is high-temperature combustion. This typically happens in electricity plants fuelled by fossil fuel and car engines. Such an event leads to the formation of nitrogen oxides (NOx). The most common source of NOx is diesel engines. They emit large volumes or high levels of NOx.

Nitrogen oxides are extremely harmful gases that contain NO (nitric oxide) and NO2 (nitrogen dioxide). Although NO in itself is not dangerous, it has serious negative effects once it reacts with NO2. Together, these two are known as NOx.

NOx emissions are responsible for the creation of the brown haze or smog that you see hovering above cities. When NOx molecules and VOC or Volatile Organic Compounds combine, they produce tropospheric or ground-level ozone. This type of ozone is different from the one found in the stratosphere primarily because it is a pollutant.

Nitrogen oxides also contribute to the production of acid rain and – as it inundates oceans with nutrients that phytoplankton feed on – harm the ocean as well as it helps cause the formation of harmful algae blooms (HAB) or red tides. Acid rain harms the environment as it destroys lakes and streams, trees and forests. On the other hand, HAB or red tide results in contaminated waters, so shellfish and other seafood will also be contaminated. Some red tides also spread toxins in the air and harm human health.

What are the effects of nitrogen oxides on human health?

Constant exposure to diesel emissions can cause several health issues.

Since NOx can easily get into the lungs, anybody exposed to the gases can develop respiratory issues. There can be damage to the lung tissue, too. If a healthy person is exposed to nitrogen oxides for a short period, they can experience lung irritation. However, if a frail person or someone with existing medical conditions is exposed to the gases for even a short time, the effect will lead to hospital or emergency room visits. For example, if the individual already has asthma, they can suffer from aggravated asthma.

In severe cases, constant exposure to NOx emissions can increase the risks of cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and serious respiratory conditions, such as bronchitis and emphysema (which is common among children and the elderly). Nitrogen oxides pollution may also increase the risks of early death.

One case that perfectly displays the varying effects of NOx pollution is that of the late Ella Kissi-Debrah. The nine-year-old girl died in 2013 after several visits to the emergency room and hospital, and after a severe asthma attack. Ella constantly passed by an area with high levels of NOx pollution on her way to school. In December 2020, the coroner ruled that the primary cause of young Ella’s untimely death was air pollution. The toxic air she was constantly exposed to worsened her asthma.

Other effects of nitrogen oxide pollution include an increased risk of mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.

Taking action

The devastating effects of NOx pollution are a major problem and you can do your part in bringing down toxic emissions. If you have a diesel vehicle, verify if it is affected by the diesel emissions scandal. Visit your manufacturer’s website for information about which cars are affected. Mercedes, through its parent company Daimler, has a page dedicated to affected car owners.

Once you’ve verified, you can start your diesel claim. Be sure to team up with a regulated, highly experienced, and professionally trained panel of emissions solicitors. The panel of solicitors at should be your first choice as they know exactly how to help you get back what your manufacturer owes you. Visit their website and check your eligibility today.

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