An environmental report has blasted diesel cars – despite earlier government efforts to encourage drivers to switch from petrol to diesel.
Separate research has also revealed that diesel fumes could cause children to develop autism and schizophrenia.
Nitrogen dioxide, a chemical present in diesel emissions, causes eye, nose and throat irritation and is said to cause breathing problems in young children.
But scientists have warned that as well as damaging the lungs, the fumes could cause autism and schizophrenia to develop within children living near busy roads.
Long-term exposure to the fumes changes the way that a child’s brain develops, it has been revealed.
The danger of the fumes has been compared to the effect of lead in petrol.
In 1999, lead in petrol was banned after scientists revealed that lead additives caused brain damage in children.
The concerns over the fumes have been raised in a report by the World Health Organisation.
Dr Ian Mudway, a researcher in respiratory toxicology at King’s College, and a co-author of the report told The Sunday Times that there is ‘strong evidence’ that diesel pollutants have an effect on cognitive function in children.
Dr Mudway said the organisation planned to carry out more research on the theme in London because the original study was conducted in California where diesel vehicle use is significantly lower.
The study, from California, reported last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association, looked at 525 children, 279 of the children had autism.
And the number of diesel cars is on the up – half of the news cars registered in 2012 used diesel.
This is the third time that scientists have recommended a move from diesel to petrol. The two prevoous warnings were both archived by DEFRA.
A government spokesman said that there was no ‘single magic bullet’ to tackle air pollution and one form of transport could not be linked to pollution levels.