Pollution from electric cars an 'ignored' problem, says OECD

By DPA | 26 January 2021

PARIS: For electric cars owners who are keen on being kind to the environment, a new report published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) makes for uneasy reading.

The dossier warns that fine particulate matter (PM) from brakes, tyres and road surfaces are an "ignored environmental policy challenge" and could soon become a major health problem for city dwellers.

Electric vehicles are the culprits here together with their petrol and diesel equivalents, said the report, published in December.

The report said the dirt kicked up from road wear and the re-suspension of road dust particles from passing vehicles might even cause worse health problems than from burning coal.

"The issue here is particulate matter only, the stuff that is bad for our immediate health, mostly in urban areas, and has nothing to do with greenhouse gas emissions," said the report, titled "Non-exhaust Particulate Emissions from Road Transport: An Ignored Environmental Policy Challenge."

"Globally, exposure to ambient PM has been ranked as the seventh most important risk factor for mortality, causing an estimated 4.2 million premature deaths in 2015."

The OECD was particularly critical of heavy electric vehicles such as big SUVs, people carriers and commercial vehicles. Their weight have gone up due to heavier, long-range batteries on board.

It said heavyweight EVs emit an estimated 3-8 per cent more particle matter than equivalent vehicles with combustion engines. Lightweight electrics, on the other hand, generally emit fewer particulates than their combustion-powered counterparts.

Even electric bicycles come in for some OECD criticism since their high-performance disc brakes release more fine particles into the air – especially as they are much faster and heavier than traditional cycles.

As a solution, the OECD suggests a reduction in the number of kilometres travelled by private vehicles, which is not a call to limit mobility generally. The report advocates more widespread use of public transport, non-assisted cycling and walking.

The report also suggests that electric cars should not be made exempt from climate improvement policies, such as congestion charges, since these vehicles also contribute to the level of potentially hazardous non-exhaust emissions.

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