Smog Alert - London Air Quality in Trouble

There may be a holiday mood around, but there are no celebrations in order when it comes to air quality. First of all, the London Air Quality Network reported on April 21st that the concentration of PM10s (particulate pollution linked to a range of health issues) at its Marylebone Rd monitoring station had gone above the EU limit of 50 micrograms per cubic metre for the 36th time this year. We have now breached the legal limit for PM10s for a whole year in London (35 exceedances are allowed in a calendar year) and it is only April! You may remember that London is already in trouble with the EU for breaching air pollution laws and a £300 million fine is looming. Can Londoners bear the cost - and I don’t mean the financial cost, but the toll on their health?

Commenting on London’s air quality crisis, Simon Birkett, Founder and Director of Clean Air in London, said:

“It is shocking that the legal standard, which is itself twice the World Health Organisation (WHO) guideline for human exposure, has been breached for the whole of 2011 before the end of April. This is more than two months earlier than last year.

“Mayor Johnson’s backward steps have aggravated London’s air pollution problems. These have included deferring Phase 3 of the low emission zone from 4 October 2010 to 3 January 2012 and rejecting advice from his own consultants on the actions needed to tackle PM10 exceedances at hotspots.

“The Mayor has backed himself into a corner where the only way to avoid £300m fines per year looks likely to be a prolonged odd and even number plate ban. Such a ban is looking inevitable also to keep London moving during the Olympics as the Mayor continues to refuse to introduce an inner low emission zone.

“The Mayor should be giving Londoners advice about protecting themselves (adaptation) and reducing air pollution for themselves and others (mitigation). People should be walking down side streets not busy roads and walking or cycling or using public transport rather than driving, particularly older diesel vehicles. Who has warned people that bonfires over Easter will make air pollution worse still in London?

“We need Mayor Johnson and the Government to tackle an invisible public health crisis with as many premature deaths attributable to air pollution in London in 2008 as we thought occurred during the Great Smog of 1952.

“Last but not least, let’s remember that the hourly limit value for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) was breached for the year in early January and annual concentrations for NO2 exceed twice the guideline level set by the WHO as with PM10.”

And people outside London cannot rest easy when it comes to air quality either. Instead of enjoying the Easter break, people with asthma now have to worry about the possibility of an attack brought on by smog. The Department for Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has issued a smog alert, warning of high levels of air pollution lasting over the Easter weekend. Smog is a combination of smoke and fog. Old-fashioned smog, common in the 1950s when it claimed thousands of lives, arose from coal-burning and the dangers of smog led to the establishment of ‘smoke-free’ zones and restrictions on domestic coal burning. Today’s smogs arise from a potent combination of vehicle emissions and sunlight, particularly in hot sunny weather such as the kind we are currently enjoying in the UK. DEFRA says that some people, including those with asthma and the elderly, may be affected by the smog and should avoid exercising outdoors, especially in the afternoons when smog levels will be at their highest. And, if you are planning to go out over the bank holiday, please do not use your car for short journeys - this will only compound the smog problem. I dread to think what will happen to air quality in the future if global warming brings us many hot, sunny summers and nothing drastic is done to control vehicle emissions nationwide!

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