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Home » Planet Issue, Viewpoint

Viewpoint – Planet: Europe’s Dirtiest Capital?

Submitted by on March 5, 2013 – 3:13 pmNo Comment
London smog.

In 1952 an estimated 4,000 people died as a result of severe air pollution in London. Today the same number are estimated to die early each year because of poor air quality in the Capital.

Dr Benjamin Barratt, of the Environmental Research Group at King’s College London, measures air quality across the city. He says in some respects London is quite clean, but in others the city could be considered the worst in Europe.

“It depends on which pollutant you are talking about. Ozone is generated by sunlight, so London is hardly likely to have the highest levels of that. In terms of nitrogen dioxide [a toxic gas that can irritate the lungs], pollution at the kerb of Marylebone Road in central London, yes, we may have the highest levels of any capital.” He said.

This year is the European Union’s ‘Year of Air’, meaning clean air will be the focus of EU environmental policy discussions as part of this the World Health Organisation (WHO). With  published research into the health effects of air pollution and called for stronger air policies.

The organisation’s research found links between “short- and long-term exposure to NO2 with mortality, hospital admissions, and respiratory symptoms at concentrations at or below the current EU limit.”

One group that would welcome stronger EU air policy are the Putney Society, based in Wandsworth, South London. Putney High Street has some of the worst recorded levels of nitrogen dioxide in the capital and regularly breaks the EU limit value.

“We first grew concerned about air pollution when we saw the study commissioned by the Mayor in which it stated that there are over 4,000 premature deaths per annum in London alone caused by excess air pollution. We calculated that this equated to about 38 deaths per year in Putney and Roehampton, a huge number if compared to say road deaths, two to three on average.” Said Jonathan Callaway, deputy chairman of the Putney Society.

Wandsworth Council has now introduced hybrid buses to Putney high street, electronic car charging points and planted trees, all to help tackle the levels of pollution in the borough.

London Mayor Boris Johnson announced plans earlier this month for an Ultra Low Emission Zone. Only zero and low-emission vehicles would be allowed in the zone by 2020 if the plan is implemented, said Mr Johnson. This plan comes just before the UK Government are taken to court by environmental law group Client Earth, for breaking EU air pollution law.

“Where the government fails to fulfil its responsibilities to its citizens, we have the right to go before our national courts and demand that action is taken. They need to face up to their responsibilities and produce a credible plan to clean up the dirty diesel vehicles which are choking our towns and cities.” Said James Thornton, Client Earth CEO.

 

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