Mayor of London tells citizens: Don't breathe

London smog
© Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

London is on “very high” pollution alert as still air, road traffic and wood burning fireplaces send pollution counts soaring into dangerous territory. Mayor Sadik Khan announces:

Today the shameful state of London’s toxic air has meant that I am forced to trigger the first ‘very high’ air pollution alert under my new comprehensive alert system. This is the highest level of alert and everyone – from the most vulnerable to the physically fit – may need to take precautions to protect themselves from the filthy air.

Timothy Baker of the environmental research group at King’s College London explains the confluence of events in the Guardian:

This episode is actually a perfect illustration of all the things that control air pollution. The weather conditions happened to coincide with the two peaks – one from the traffic, one from the wood burning – and then that was on top of what we had already built up locally over a number of days and a bit coming in from the continent.


Now a sensible person might suggest that the thing to do under such circumstances is to ban wood fires, but there are still a lot of people in London who have really lousy or non-existent central heat, or even ban diesel buses, trucks and cars until the whole thing blows over. But this is London, where instead you get people suggesting that they close the bike lanes instead , since they cause congestion and pollution.


Feargus O’Sullivan, writing in CitiLab, notes how little action has actually been taken, compared to other cities.

Meaningful action, however, has been absent. There have been no extra speed limits imposed on any city roads, no alternate driving days (or even proposals for them), no increase in public transit or reduction in fares to encourage drivers or taxi passengers off the road. Compare this to Paris, which just this morning introduced a permanent system which bans the most polluting cars, and will then gradually phase out the worst of the remainder. Paris has also used alternate driving days during pollution peaks for several years, with considerable success in clearing the air.


Everyone has their priorities, but one would have thought that people would come before cars. And indeed, the Mayor has plans to clean up the air around schools:

Recommended measures might include moving school entrances and play areas to reduce exposure to busy roads, and introducing “no engine idling” zones and green infrastructure such as hedges and bushes to provide barriers to block out fumes. The mayor said: “Every child deserves the right to breathe clean air in London and it is a shameful fact that more than 360 of our primary schools are in areas breaching legal pollution limits.”

And until then, don’t breathe.

Tags: Air Pollution | Air Quality | Cities | London

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