London facing ‘one of worst smogs’ in recent memory

Air pollution in London is comparable to that of Beijing, says the Clean Air in London think tank

London’s cars and buses should be taken off the road if air quality levels continue to plummet. (Source: Clean Air in London)

By Nilima Choudhury

Air quality levels in London today could plummet, air pollution monitors in the city have warned.

The recent heatwave experienced by the UK, combined with a lack of wind, has left pollution hanging above a city where approximately 7,500 buses and 23,000 black cabs, the heaviest polluters, carry over six million people each day.

“We may be heading into one of the worst summer smogs in recent years,” Simon Birkett, think tank Clean Air in London’s founder and director told RTCC.

“London could lead the world again in tackling air pollution if the Mayor banned carcinogenic diesel exhaust in the most polluted areas as other cities are doing.”

Clean Air in London says pollution levels in the centre of London will be “moderate” for the rest of the week. Pollution levels have dropped since the beginning of this year when levels were “high”.

A new study suggests that 2.1 million people die after inhaling particles called PM 2.5s generated by diesel engines, power plants and coal fires.

Another 470,000 are thought to be killed by high levels of ozone, created when vehicle exhaust gases react with oxygen.

London has the highest levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) of any capital city in Europe, and data recently released by Transport for London indicated that one road in the north east of the city had high levels of four dangerous air pollutants.

“The Mayor should be warning people and health services and giving people advice on protecting themselves and reducing pollution for themselves and others,” said Birkett.

Speaking to RTCC last month, Matthew Pencharz, environment and political advisor to Mayor Boris Johnson said: “There’s no denying this [air quality] is a problem. The Mayor is doing a series of things to address that.”

In the aftermath of the Great Smog of 1952, the government passed the Clean Air Act in 1956. In 2012, the government issued two warnings of dangerous levels of air quality.

The first was in March when air pollution in London hit record levels. This was due to a combination of traffic fumes, relatively still weather and an influx of dirty air from the north of England and northern France.

The start of the Olympics was marred by a pollution warning where the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) advised people to stay indoors and not do too much exercise. For athletes completing their final pre-Olympics training this was not really an option.

Birkett advised: “People can help by walking down side streets rather than busy roads, where possible, and consider whether their journey is really necessary.

“Londoners need to realise that – year round – our city has the highest levels of nitrogen dioxide, a toxic gas, of any capital in Europe and comparable with Beijing.”

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