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London Breaches Air Pollution Limit In One Week

London Air Pollution

London has surpassed its air pollution cap – for the year – in one week! This is because parts of the UK capital have exceeded the recommended hourly limits for nitrogen dioxide pollution. Nitrogen dioxide is an irritant gas; one source is fuel combustion. At sufficiently high concentrations it can cause inflammation of the airways. Nitrogen dioxide levels are linked with premature deaths.

The news report about London surpassing its 2016 target in week 1 of 52 followed a briefing by the Government on how it planned to clean up air in the city. The timing of the announcement turned out to be a little awkward.

The report of the failure related to measurements taken in Putney on Friday, January 8. Under a European Union target no area of a major city should exceed 200 micrograms of nitrogen dioxide more than 18 times (each time represented by a one hour measurement). In Putney, the measurement made on Friday represented the 19th excursion. This was shortly followed by high levels in Chelsea and Kensington, and the bustling Oxford Street (London’s shopping hub).

This is, however, better than 2015 when London took just two days to miss its target. By January 3rd, 2015, Oxford Street topped the pollution level.

Does this mean that the targets are too tight or that the U.K. is very polluted? It is probably a mix of the two. There is little point having a target that is impossible to meet, but equally such a target needs to be reflective of the risks to public health. Setting a higher target, but with mile-stone reductions over several years might be better, provided that technological changes to vehicle emitted pollutions can be controlled. To place greater restrictions on traffic flow through London would be economically damaging.

Technological changes can be fiddled, as the owners of Volkswagen know all too well. The U.K. government’s plan is focused on reducing emissions from busses and taxis. However, there seems to be little quantitative data to indicate whether such a measure in itself will be sufficient.

About the author

Tim Sandle

Dr. Tim Sandle is a chartered biologist and holds a first class honours degree in Applied Biology; a Masters degree in education; and has a doctorate from Keele University.

  • Victor Grayson

    This is mostly from taxis and buses.