In a new report entitled 'Public health impact of outdoor and traffic-related air pollution: a European assessment' the scientists claim exhaust fumes from diesel vehicles account for over 20,000 deaths per year in France, Austria and Switzerland - half the total mortality rates attributed to air pollution.
They said traffic air pollution causes 25,000 new cases of chronic bronchitis among adults, 29,000 episodes of bronchitis in children, and more than 500,000 asthma attacks every year in the three countries, and blamed traffic pollution for causing more than 16 million 'lost' person-days.
Head of the research team Dr Nino Kunzli said: 'Although individual health risks of air pollution are relatively small, the public health consequences are considerable. Traffic-related air pollution remains a key target for public-health action in Europe.'
His report highlights health costs as an economic problem because they are not included in the market price. This: 'leads to a wasting of scarce and important resources (eg clean air, silence, and clean water). To stop this wastage, the real price should be put on clean air,' it said.
The World Health Organisation supports this 'polluter pays' principle, giving national governments a powerful excuse to raise taxes on fuel - a move that would seriously damage fleet budgets at a time when world oil prices are well above $30 per barrel.
A recent WHO report entitled 'Health Costs due to Road Traffic-related Air Pollution', acknowledged that road transport has a positive impact on economic growth and personal mobility, but said traffic has adverse effects such as accidents, noise, air pollution, harm to health, crop damage, and traffic jams.