Picture: Map showing areas of London with the highest levels of nitrogen dioxide. Annual mean NO2 concentrations, 2016 – London Atmospheric Emissions Inventory, 2016We’re here to tell you all you need to know about the real state of London’s air quality, explain what’s being done to improve it and let you know how you can do your bit to help.
Here’s the situation…
Every person in every area of London is affected by air pollution. Fact.
What’s more, around 2 million of us reside in areas that continually exceed the legal limits for air pollution, including 400,000 children and around 1 in 5 state-run primary schools.
In short, air pollution is having a detrimental effect on our health. In fact, every year our toxic air contributes to the premature deaths of thousands of Londoners and estimated costs to our economy of up to £3.7 billion.
So, what exactly causes air pollution?
Picture: Road transport is the largest contributor to London’s air pollution crisisTo understand why air pollution is such a big problem, we need to get into the science of what it actually is.
Air pollution can come from a number of sources, such as construction sites, industry, and generating heat and power.
But today, the biggest contributor to air pollution in London is road transport. Petrol and diesel vehicles pump a host of toxins into the air, such as nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and harmful particulates.
From minuscule bits of carbon to tiny metal and rubber parts from engine use, there are all sorts of harmful particles in our air. We may not be able to see it with the naked eye, but the effects they have on our health are becoming increasingly visible every day.
What’s more, the smallest of these particulates have the potential to enter our blood streams and cause a whole range of health complaints – such as dizziness, coughs, headaches and reduced immunity – and are also known to worsen conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
The combination of all these elements is potentially decreasing our life expectancy and increasing our risk of cardiovascular disease. And children are particularly vulnerable – those who live in heavily polluted streets have been shown to have a 5% smaller lung capacity on average than those who live in areas with cleaner air.
Let London Breathe: Air Myths Busted
Road transport isn’t the main cause of air pollution in London – False! Driving polluting vehicles is the single biggest cause of air pollution in the capital.
Only central parts of London are affected by air pollution – False! All of London is exposed to high levels of air pollution.
You can always see when pollution is bad in London – False! Sometimes pollutants can cause smog or haziness in the air, but not all airborne toxins are visible.
How do we change things for the better?
Picture: Consider cycling or walking where possible to reduce emissionsIt’s clear that we need to act to improve air quality now.
The good news is that TfL and the Mayor of London have already put measures in place that will help improve London’s air.
All new double deck buses in London are hybrid, electric or hydrogen, which will help reduce the pollutants in our atmosphere. The Mayor of London has now completed ten of 12 Low Emission Bus Zones, reducing nitrogen oxide emissions from buses by an average of 90% along some of the capital’s most polluted roads.
In addition to this, all new taxis must be zero-emissions capable in order to be licensed to work in the capital. Since 2018, over 1,500 zero-emissions taxis have been licensed in London.
Not only this, but the central London Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) is expected to reduce harmful road transport nitrogen oxide emissions by 45%. Thanks to ULEZ and other new air quality policies, the number of state schools in areas exceeding legal air pollution limits are expected to drop from more than 450 to just five by 2020, and zero by 2025.
We can each do our bit to help, too. More cycle routes are being introduced across the capital, so we can opt to ride our bikes to work rather than drive. Or, we could take in the sights of the capital by walking more, or even hop on one of the many low-emission public transport services available throughout London.
If you need a car to get from A to B, then there are things you can do to start to drive consciously, such as turning off your engine while waiting in traffic for long periods. Alternatively, you could sign up to a car club; these are cost-effective and usually provide low emission or even electric cars.
To find out more about how Transport for London and the Mayor of London are improving our air quality, visit tfl.gov.uk/air-quality today.