Doctors and anti-pollution activists have blockaded the UK headquarters of Volkswagen as the campaign to highlight the country’s air pollution crisis gathers pace.
Hundreds of staff were prevented from getting into VW’s head office in Milton Keynes by doctors and other medics who, with Greenpeace activists, set up “sick bays” at entrances to highlight the damage VW diesel vehicles are doing to people’s health.
Aarash Saleh, a doctor in respiratory medicine who is at the protest, 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.”
Greenpeace, which is organising Monday’s demonstration, said VW produced more diesel cars than any other manufacturer in the UK and urged it to go 100% electric.
Mel Evans, a clean air campaigner for the environmental group, 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.”
He said the company had repeatedly refused to meet Greenpeace to discuss the issue so campaigners had “brought the truth about diesel to its doorstep.”
He added: “Volkswagen must face up to its responsibility for deadly air pollution and commit to end diesel production now.”
Volkswagen was caught cheating on emissions tests by using a defeat device designed to reduce emissions in test conditions. More than 1.2m vehicles sold in the UK were fitted with the system and the company is now facing the largest group litigation action in UK history.
Monday’s protest comes amid signs of a growing militancy among environmental activists as the urgency of the issues – from climate change to air pollution – becomes more apparent.
Earlier this year, several campaigners were imprisoned after blocking roads in London to highlight the issue of air pollution; in June 12 protesters went on hunger strike over the government’s plans to expand Heathrow and last year Greenpeace seized a cargo ship heading to the UK that was packed with VW cars.
Monday’s protest highlights growing concern about illegal levels of air pollution in the UK and its impact on human health – particularly that of children. Earlier this month, a medical expert said the hospital admissions of a girl who died from an asthma attack at the age of nine showed a “striking association” with spikes in illegal levels of air pollution around her home in London.
Government figures also show a steep rise in the number of deaths from asthma, which experts say are likely to be fuelled by worsening air quality.
Several studies have linked air pollution to a range of deadly conditions including heart disease, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and dementia.