An evaluation of the environmental and health effects of vehicle exhaust catalysts in the UK

Environ Health Perspect. 2004 Feb;112(2):132-41. doi: 10.1289/ehp.6349.


Since 1993, all new gasoline-engine automobiles in the United Kingdom have been supplied with three-way vehicle exhaust catalytic converters (VECs) containing platinum, palladium, and rhodium, to comply with European Commission Stage I limits on emissions of regulated pollutants: carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, and oxides of nitrogen. We conducted a physical and economic evaluation of the environmental and health benefits from a reduction in emissions through this mandated environmental technology against the costs, with reference to urban areas in Great Britain. We made both an ex post assessment--based on available data to 1998--and an ex ante assessment--projected to 2005, the year when full penetration of VECs into the fleet is expected. Substantial health benefits in excess of the costs of VECs were indicated: By 1998 the estimated net societal health benefits were approximately 500 million British pounds, and by 2005 they were estimated to rise to as much as 2 billion British pounds. We also found through environmental surveys that although lead in road dust has fallen by 50% in urban areas, platinum accumulations near roads have risen significantly, up to 90-fold higher than natural background levels. This rapid accumulation of platinum suggests further monitoring is warranted, although as yet there is no evidence of adverse health effects.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Catalysis
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Environment*
  • Health Care Costs / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Models, Theoretical*
  • Palladium / analysis
  • Platinum / analysis
  • Public Health* / economics
  • Rhodium / analysis
  • United Kingdom
  • Urban Population
  • Vehicle Emissions / adverse effects*
  • Vehicle Emissions / prevention & control*


  • Vehicle Emissions
  • Platinum
  • Palladium
  • Rhodium