More recently the UK Green lobby has been making a big deal about Urban Air Pollution by brandishing statistics which claim up to 5000 people die early every year due to air pollution to call for curbs on car use in town centres. However ” sensible environmentalist ” Bjorn Lomborg uses the same 5000 figure and points to third world indoor cooking open fires as the main driver behind the statistics and the main UK health problem is probably the incidence of severe asthma attacks.
My first encounter with asthma came when I was at primary school and during the summer school holidays went to stay with my granny and granddad, he suffered from asthma after developing pneumonia after getting cold and wet working on his farm years ago. Despite smoking seriously strong Twist in his pipe and occasional back drafts of smoke from the coal fire his attacks were not that often but when he did get one my granny would get his ” puffing pills ” and give him one which soon sorted his breathing back to normal. Right through my school days I can’t recall any members of my class having problems with asthma although inevitably some of the kids at secondary school I didn’t know must have had it. If you bought into the more recent health propaganda I was probably particularly at risk living on a sharp corner of the then very busy before the M62 A59 in the first 6 years of my life and before the local by-pass took most of the traffic away from our village.
I kept up with news and current affairs throughout my life and it was not really until the late 1980s that risks to health from transport emissions became higher on the agenda and in the beginning mostly focussed on Lead which the university boffins claimed to have proved restricted mental capacity development in kids living near busy roads. As a result legislation was enacted to make all new cars capable of using unleaded petrol and in 1989 I purchased a new 1000cc Metro with a reduced compression ratio and hardened valve seat inserts to run on the standard 95 octane ( and cheaper than leaded 4star ) unleaded petrol. I soon got pissed off by getting gassed by the acrid exhaust fumes when pulling up steep hills on narrow roads with high edges when I had the window open so I went back to using 4star and adjusted the ignition timing by advancing it as far as practical without causing pinking and made her as fast as a standard 1300. I still got gassed occasionally and especially when following BMW’s which were probably running on even higher octane ” Super Unleaded ” up hills and soon to counter the problem the EU made catalytic converters mandatory on all new cars.
I knew all about octane improvers after being pointed to and reading about the development of piston aero engines after reading The Power To Fly by LJK Setwright and which was by then out of print so I had to order it from the local library. The performance of British fighter planes was significantly improved by first using highly toxic Toluene as an octane improver and later in combination with water methanol injection ( the methanol was to stop the water freezing at high altitude ) but further development was curbed by the advent of the reliable Jet engine. I knew all about Toluene from my time delivering it and other hazardous chemicals when driving for Sandiford’s and it was used extensively as a solvent in the print industry and particularly the production of glossy colour magazines.
Jumping forward in time to after 1993 when I retired due to my back problem and instances of severe asthma attacks were still going trough the roof and I contacted BBC Science ” ask us any question ” so my question was about Toluene levels in petrol to which I got the answer that Toluene levels had not significantly changed in the last two years. They basically dodged the question by not going as far back as the introduction of unleaded petrol, I further inquired as to whether they were using Toluene in Jet Fuel but drew a blank because they said it was a commercial secret. At least I did find out that they were now using a Manganese compound as an octane improver but there were still loads of non cat fitted cars on the road after leaded petrol was withdrawn from sale. Furthermore, the original cat systems mounted under the floor some distance from the engine took time to reach efficient operating temperature and unless you had the opportunity to work the engine hard before you hit slow traffic their effectiveness was significantly reduced. The latest designs with the cat mounted almost direct on the exhaust manifold have much improved the problem but now the environmental health lobby have put their focus on the now more common than petrol diesel powered vehicles.
When I was a teenager my favourite choice was to ride shotgun in a 1970 ERF eight-wheeler bulk powder tank as driven by a middle age driver who was born in East Anglia into a farming family who moved up to my local area when his father got a small farm on the flank of Pendle Hill. The main job was originally delivering cement as far as the North East over the original A59 Blubberhouses route but that dried up due to appeasing the trade unions and the new 30 ton gross eight-wheel tankers the company had introduced so we started hauling dried foundry sand from BIS Chelford in Cheshire. The main run was Stockton Castings an easy day mostly with time for an hour’s kip in a layby on the A19 on the way back to arrive just in time for me to refuel after school, a bigger challenge was first do a run down to Tipton ( north Birmingham ) then another load back to Kiethley. It took about 45 minutes to discharge a full tank of sand and so to keep warm on cold days ( the cab heaters were useless ) I would stand in the exhaust stream from the tailpipe of the silencer which was mounted transverse under the radiator and came out at about knee level just in front of the front offside wheel with no problem from breathing in the fumes from the engine on about half revs to drive the Holmes blower.
MUP 875J was fitted with a Gardner 6LX naturally aspirated 10.45 litre engine developing 150 Bhp at 1700 Rpm originally introduced in 1958 and was basically an enlargement of their 8 litre 120 Bhp 6LW which was developed in the 1930s and which revolutionised road transport in the UK before WW2. In 1968 the 6LX was uprated to 180 Bhp at 1850 Rpm by advancing the valve timing by 11 degrees and changing the valve seats angle to 30 degrees from the original 45 to give a bigger port opening for a given valve lift although some still held that a 150 was just as good if you filed a few thou off the pump cold start trigger to inject more fuel. The cold start trigger got filed on the 180s as well with the aim of resulting in a slight puff of smoke on the initial press of the accelerator from idle then clear smoke free, and it is also interesting to note that a steam locomotive boiler is at its peak thermal efficiency with light grey smoke coming from the chimney.
In the 1960s any serious haulage companies ( they were very popular for use in buses as well ) who could afford them used Gardner engines as fitted to ERF Atkinson Seddon and Guy’s even though some chose the far less fuel efficient but more mechanically reliable 12 litre US design Cummins ( built at Shotts central Scotland ) first 180 Bhp then uprated to 220 in the early 1970s and a 14 litre 250. Also the Rolls-Royce Eagle 12.17 litre by then 220 as built in the former Sentinel steam wagon works at Shrewsbury was proving useful whilst the powerful GM Detroit Diesel two-strokes never really caught on due to their heavy fuel consumption. Its worth mentioning that one of the GM engine Horton quarry Terex loading shovels managed 18000 hours major breakdown free despite recommended engine overall at 6000 hours according to a fitter friend of mine who worked there.
Then came the turbocharger revolution and Gardner did try to fight back with its 8LXB 240 later uprated 265 LXC and 6LXC 200 then 6LXCT turbo producing 230 Bhp. By the end of the 1970s everyone was moving onto the turbo RR Eagle 265 then 290 and Cummins produced a turbo 14 litre 290 which was heavier on fuel than a RR but then a redesign with a Big Cam made Cummins more fuel efficient and then inlet manifold engine cooling water ” intercooling ” gave 320 Bhp by 1985. Engines were getting more reliable as well mostly due to advances in materials technology and the reliability of RR in particular was transformed by new composite pistons with the top piston ring grove incorporated in a cast in cast iron insert. More accurate CNC machining was also playing its part whist Gardner struck back with its 15 litre 6LYT which never caught on in haulage but was fitted to the double deck coaches Stagecoach were flying down the fast lane of the M6 between Glasgow and London.
Again I digress, but getting back to the asthma story in spring 1991 on returning from exploring New Zealand for seven weeks I got a job working at the by then Stagecoach owned Ribble bus garage at Clitheroe on the late shift cleaning buses and assisting the fitters in the garage when required. The cleaner guy in his mid fifties who I worked with and initially showed me the ropes had worked for Ribble in the same lowly capacity since he left school, initially at Burnley depot and had transferred to Clitheroe when that closed. He told me that he had suffered from asthma since he was a child in WW2 yet despite the significant stagnant and visible diesel fume level in the enclosed garage it never bothered him. The fleet mostly comprised Bristol VRT double deckers fitted with de-rated to 170 Bhp 6LXB Gardners and short Leyland National single deckers fitted with 11 litre Leyland 680 engines. The fleet was probably on average more smoky than it needed to be because the fitters never checked the condition of the air cleaners because it wasn’t included on the check list and it was so bad that a couple of Leyland Nationals actually broke down and had to be towed in due to blocked air cleaners. When I was there we got a set of brand new double deck coach Leyland Olympians fitted with full rated Gardner 6LXB’s which were not really up to the job they were intended for, I left in November ( by then because of my usefulness working the early shift ) after a sharp frost completely knackered my back.
In 1993 I got involved in a serious relationship with a five years older than me former childhood sweetheart who’s marriage had broken down with two male kids, the eldest in the last year at primary school, youngest just starting and she arranged to rent a house in my village. Her eldest son suffered from asthma but also mild coordination problems and was subsequently diagnosed as having a mild form of autism, and ADHD probably precipitated by the acrimonious divorce circumstances. He used both the blue acute and brown alleged preventative inhalers perhaps not as fully effective due to his coordination problem and I recall once having to take him down to the treatment room at Clitheroe Health Centre to use a nebuliser after one particularly bad asthma attack. It is interesting to note that he enjoyed our trips out to preserved steam railways and being tall for his age big enough to dangle his head out of the front coach door window in all the smoke and ash particles from the locomotive without experiencing an asthma attack !
Around that time the local cement works had started using waste print industry solvents to save money and perhaps help burn the low grade imported coal they were using more efficiently and pollution was obviously a real problem in our village a mile and a half down prevailing wind. It was probably at its worst on still mornings and when I went outside the back of our house on such mornings the air smelt just like someone had been over charging batteries. One of the young pigeons I bred for racing in spring 1994 emerged from the nest deformed and I couldn’t help speculating that it was due to dioxins from burning Toluene and so I joined the local anti pollution group Residents Against Toxic Substances. A big public meeting was held in the Civic Hall at Clitheroe which I attended and afterwards I met a New Zealand originating alleged pollution expert and attempted to challenge him about Toluene being used in unleaded petrol but he wouldn’t be drawn on the subject. RATS delegates were invited to attend meetings with the cement works and with the also RATS key member and local top CPRE man former Greenpeace activist I attended the meeting where it was agreed that they would install one of the latest flue gas scrubbers. During the meeting I asked the then HMIP expert in attendance if the scrubber would remove all toxic emission to which the answer was a firm yes and I also brought up the quality of the coal they were using but the works manager blew really cold on that, We took the results back to the next RATS meeting but some of the members were not satisfied with the proposal and wanted to carry on the fight which probably proved that their intention was to close down the works all along, I resigned pointing to the fact that the flue gas scrubber was the best social and sustainable local economy option. The top CPRE guy resigned from RATS soon after which perhaps precipitated CPRE sacking him and he moved out of the area soon after as his posh wife got sacked from her job as headmistress of a village school perhaps linked to her preaching green ideology to the mostly farmers kids. A part of the agreement was to build a high tech pollution monitoring station at the bottom of the playing fields in my village but it never recorded anything except on bonfire night with the big village bonfire lit 50 yards away from it and after ten years it was dismantled.
Getting back to developments in internal combustion engine technology I religiously watched the Sunday morning transmissions of the BBC series Technical Studies which covered various examples of manufacturing industry production practices and even taped it on VHS video in the intention of showing it to my girlfriend’s kids as part of their education. I was sad to find that they were more interested in playing what I found pointless computer games like Super Mario but one of the programmes featured Perkins diesel engine combustion chamber design advances. Since the 1930s various designs had been experimented with to achieve more complete combustion of the fuel and I wish I still had the 1941 technical book The Modern Diesel which had detail drawings of them all which I lost due to lending it to a long past alleged friend who never gave it me back. I did try to order it from the local library but they sent me a 1949 edition which didn’t cover it along with other useful information on research on bio-fuels although as a consolation I did get some new useful info on the Sentinel diesel engine. The Gardner had a simple about an inch deep bowl in the centre of the top of the piston plus a mask on the inlet valve to induce ” swirl ” to mix the injected fuel better whist some engines like the RR 220 had the mask cast into the inlet port of the cylinder head. Most smaller diesel engines had indirect injection into a chamber in the cylinder head connected to the cylinder by a narrow tube originally including the Perkins 6.354 featured in the programme but almost all diesel engines are direct injection now. My conclusion is that the Gardner’s fuel efficiency secret was a longer than average connecting rod which meant the piston decelerated at a slower rate approaching top dead centre then initially accelerated slower as the fuel burned at the beginning of the power stoke thus allowing fuel injection to start at 31 degrees before TDC when most engines risked breaking the crankshaft and were bad to cold start at 26 ?
The programme showed how the designers with the help of computer simulations developed of the shape of the ” torroidal ” and to cope with the high temperature on the desired narrow lip used high tech alloy steel inserts cast into the top of the piston. They had managed to get 180 BHP from an engine which originally produced 100 Bhp when it was designed ( I was informed by the now dead former Perkins works service engineer guy who failed to give me my book back ) by an Indian engineer who’s name was Panica. The advance was probably also due to the advent of modern computerised electrickery engine management which has overcome the ” turbo lag ” you get with air intercooling using a radiator in front of the engine cooling radiator. It all helped in the virtual arms race where corporate haulage and bus companies strived to stand still and maintain journey times against the many new small roundabouts now littering our trunk roads, extra stops for new traffic lights, likewise the EU directive speed limiters which stop drivers making up lost time where its safe to do so. Corporates often specify the most powerful engine option available in order to achieve satisfactory progress from their often screened by psychometric testing to select totally brain dead idiots who will slavishly follow their directions without question. It hasn’t done them any good and the proof may be that Eddie Stobart would have gone bust and closed down recently but for an unspecified ” investor ” buying its massive debts for £1 and perhaps the company only grew because the Banks gave him favours to offer rig the free market scams like free haulage into warehousing at Penrith from anywhere in central Scotland.
More recently technical developments have been skewed by the EU inspired obsession with reducing Co2 emissions but the result has been a massive increase in NOX emissions as revealed in the press recently in an article pointing out that the new alleged super green Merc London Taxi’s now taking over the market have far higher NOX emissions than the old Manganese Bronze British design they are intended to replace ASAP. To appease the heath-fascist quasi-religion all new diesels must be fitted with carbon particulate filters in the exhaust but even they probably miss the smallest particles health experts claim are small enough to enter the blood stream. Apparently unless you go for a regular flat out blast up the motorway to clean them out they become clogged and then it costs thousands to replace them and are they just another convenient excuse to promote false economic growth which in turn increases the ever growing financial apartheid between rich and poor. Larger particles are probably not a problem anyway as gravity soon brings them harmlessly to the ground whereas the small stuff hangs around in the air for ages and nobody ever mentions the ash which can vary in different sourced oil.
I am minded towards the conclusion that given my above observations it must therefore be reasonable to believe that NOX emissions ( as now proven increased by 37% by Traffic Calming ) has been the primary trigger for asthma attacks all along, and I did try to get my ideas across to professionals by opening an account on and publishing links to some of my observations LinkdIn. It was useful in that I got into contact with a top guy from a company which has developed a Hydrogen injection system which he claimed reduced NOX emissions by 30% whist at the same time reducing fuel consumption. The Hydrogen was generated as required by the electrolysis of water and the prototype had been proved in the engines of mobile container cranes at Rotterdam docks and could be retro fitted to older vehicles, but perhaps its introduction would be stalled by the part of the Corporate Multinational Cartel big engine manufacturers just like a proven to save fuel steam injection idea from the mid 1990s when they ruled it would void their warranty. I subsequently dropped contact with the guy because in the resulting direct email correspondence it became clear that his primary objective was to milk the climate change mitigation component of foreign aid money by selling new vehicles fitted with his system to Ethiopia where it was obvious it would soon fail anyway simply due to the lack of reliable supplies of clean water.
I also got into email contact with a top London teaching hospital lung disease specialist and sent him my observations about traffic calming whist pointing out that lager particulates were probably less potentially dangerous to health but from his reply it would appear that his only interest was getting fossil fuel based transport banned in cities completely. I also got into a heated argument with a Scottish based top transport manager guy involved in national milk collection and delivery over an article in which I stated my conclusion of the true cause of the Sowerby Bridge disaster ( killed 6 people ) back in the mid 1990s from practical experience of driving the route. He claimed that I didn’t know what I was talking about and how he had studied the case in detail whist at university, and yet he probably proved my conclusion that it was caused by the ex-police ( retired long service ) driver pumping ( like trained to do with a hydraulic car ) the well faded from peak effectiveness air brakes before he set out down the hill on which his wagon ran away. He said that by-standing pedestrians at the top of the hill had heard the driver testing his brakes, with ing being the operative and indicating that he pressed the brake pedal several times as you can only hear anything when the brakes are released. I only wish I knew then what I know now and it has since been proven that Norman Bettison was the most senior key police officer involved in the cover up of the truth about the Hillsborough disaster when he was at South Yorkshire and by the time of the Sowerby Bridge disaster he was the newly appointed Assistant Chief Constable of West Yorkshire. Was it all yet another cover up to protect the police ( road safety ) reputation again, and would the conclusion of the investigation have been different if the driver had been one of the young farm lads from the dales who drove most of the Fewston wagons ?
If I can find time I have promised myself to write an article outlining my full analysis of all the contributory factors leading to the Sowerby Bridge disaster, and I have long since been electronically excommunicated by LinkdIn ( even though I still technically hold an account and they still send me emails ) probably due to my dangerous radical political views and especially my anti big corporate angle. Its the same with me and the BBC, and similarly most of the prominent UK celebrity lefties have blocked me on facebook and Twitter as they attempt to pretend that I don’t exist !