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Poor Air Quality
17 Sep 2013 19:42 #104

David Hughes David Hughes's Avatar Topic Author

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Poor air quality is the second biggest public health issue in the UK bar smoking (and a hot topic in the south of the borough given the very high pollution levels on the North Circular Road). So it’s surprising that according to Jenny Jones – London Assembly member on behalf of the Green Party – London’s air quality will still not meet current legal requirements by 2020. Our council though does seem to be taking an interest as I found when I attended a recent meeting of the Sustainability & The Living Environment Scrutiny Panel to hear a presentation by the founder of Clean Air in London.

It was all bad news. Britain’s streets are still heavily polluted by:
• carbon particles called PM2.5 emitted mainly by traffic, and
• nitrogen dioxide emitted mainly by traffic and domestic central heating boilers.

And these emissions, particularly the cancer, emphysema and asthma causing/aggravating PM2.5, are responsible for the nation’s biggest public health issue other than smoking, and the cause of more road-related deaths than traffic accidents.

Well we all know why we are in this mess. Councils and especially national government haven’t done enough, quite possibly because they haven’t wanted to tackle the car lobby. But there’s a quirk: the emission of PM2.5 has gone up as a result of the recent increased popularity of cars and light vans powered by diesel engines, which emit 20 to 30 times more of these highly dangerous particles than comparable petrol engines, amounting to 90% of the particles on the high street.

Clearly a move away from diesel-powered cars would be a good thing despite their advantage in combating climate change, but the biggest incentives for achieving that lie with government. Locally the best councils could do would probably be limited to making parking charges for diesel vehicles higher than those powered by petrol.

Of course lorries and buses are an important contributor, and there was brief mention of the importance of moving towards hybrid vehicles. But in the short-term it seems filters suitable for conventional buses are available for a price tag in the low to middle thousands of pounds. Apparently some boroughs have already made the change by exerting pressure on the bus companies so, personally, I’ll be lobbying our council to do the same. Health matters.

We all have a stake in this issue, but somehow, perhaps because we can’t see the pollution or don’t want to know about it because our car is implicated, there is little pressure on government at all levels to take the issue seriously. Which is a shame; in my opinion quality of life would be improved by taking the measures which would help. So here’s my list (some a lot more ambitious and expensive than others):

• electric cars (Enfield Council is working on this one), but central government could do more to incentivise the purchase of electric vehicles and discourage the purchase of petrol/diesel cars;
• encouraging the use of car clubs and hire vehicles for longer journeys where electric vehicles are unsuitable
• using the tax system to discourage the purchase of the most polluting vehicles (large &/or inefficient cars);
• encouraging smooth-flowing traffic and cycling using 20mph limits, and
• encouraging the wider use of public transport, perhaps with a more extensive tram system.

Of these, 20mph speed limits, especially in purely residential streets and social areas like high streets, would do most for air quality and quality of life generally because:

• removing many traffic lights and pedestrian crossings would remove the likelihood of bunched traffic which causes serious local pollution;
• calmed traffic would foster a cycling and pedestrian culture;
• street communities would re-form and children’s independence would return to the streets;
• road accidents would be reduced in number and seriousness;
• efforts to reduce global warming would benefit;
• finite resources would be conserved, and
• London’s population is growing – if the same proportion as now continue to drive this city will seize up

Several London boroughs have already adopted default 20mph limits, and it now looks as if the City of London – which already has London’s lowest traffic emissions – is about to do the same.

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Round 2 of poor Air Quality
06 Oct 2013 11:04 #110

David Hughes David Hughes's Avatar Topic Author

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What is it about poor air quality – second only to smoking in its ability to kill – which leads people to remain passive in the face of inaction by the government? Frankly I’d expected lots of expressions of support for the council’s foray into the issue which I wrote about in my piece three weeks or so ago, but, despite the fact that 61 people seem to have read it, not a peep.

It’s not as if the problem is confined to hotspots like the North Circular Road – though given the fact that so many local people live alongside it that is a terrible situation – but it’s all around us on main roads, and especially in places like our much loved Triangle. For drivers the situation is even worse: the most polluted place anywhere is behind the wheel of a car at a traffic-light or in a traffic hold-up, especially if the car’s ventilation fan is running. Why do people drive up so close to the exhaust of my car at traffic-lights or in a tailback on the North Circular? Madness!

Perhaps the explanation for this passive approach is that unlike me most people are not lifelong asthmatics, or are not parents or grandparents of the ever-growing cohort of asthma sufferers. If so, it’s not good enough, because all of us, drivers or not, are garnering PM2.5’s from the exhaust of diesel engines which all too often leads to cancer or emphysema.

And now we learn something else: reactant pollutants in diesel fumes destroy chemicals in the odour of oilseed flowers; which could have a serious detrimental effect on the number of honeybee colonies, and therefore on vital pollination activity.

Hopefully this topic will be doing the rounds of the area forums in the near future. What will you tell the council about your attitude to this issue?

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Poor Air Quality
09 Oct 2013 14:39 #111

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Why do people remain passive? Several reasons, I think:

1. People are unaware - the government and most of the media prefer not to publicise the problem for reasons listed below.

2. When faced with a problem which doesn't need fixing absolutely immediately (it can be left for another day, week, year, decade...) there is a natural tendency to sweep it under the carpet, especially if as an individual there's little or nothing you can do that will have any immediate impact.

3. The main cause of air pollution is traffic and most car drivers want to keep on driving whenever it suits them. If they are actually aware of the air pollution issue, they either go into denial about it or sweep it under the carpet (see above).

4. Governments of all three parties have been told over and over about the serious health impacts of air pollution, but prefer to sweep the issue under the carpet because the only way to fix it would involve upsetting car drivers, big business and the Daily Mail: "Government declares war on motorists". Just look at government (in-)action on carbon emissions, which is an incomparably more urgent issue about whose importance successive governments have been fully aware, and still they won't do anything substantial for fear of upsetting the public and big business.

I see little hope for nationwide progress while the media is dominated by the Mail and Murdoch and the BBC continues to take its current cowardly attitude towards difficult issues (while continuing to pay huge sums of money to Jeremy Clarkson). The majority of the population will remain blissfully ignorant and most of those who are aware will continue to sweep it under the carpet. Governments will shy away from action because they fear antagonising floating voters in marginal constituencies and because they don't want to upset big business.

Hopefully, some progress might be made in individual localities where local politicians are brave enough to take steps. Ken Livingstone took the very bold step of introducing the congestion charge and spending money to utterly transform the reliability of public transport in London, but was then subjected to character assassination by the Evening Standard. Think how much worse air pollution would be in London if public transport had continued to decline and people had taken to cars instead. One of Boris Johnson's first actions on taking over was to reduce the size of the congestion zone, but at least he hasn't reversed the improvements in public transport.

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Poor Air Quality
11 Apr 2016 14:43 #2085

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“there is a legal and moral imperative to improve London’s air quality, and more needs to be done about it”. Quote from, Up In The Air Report, Part 2


A little over a year since, I attended a small seminar at UCL, led by the Director of the NIHR Health Protection Research Unit on Environmental Hazards considering Air Pollution. I came away completely shocked. Thousands of UK deaths due to particulates were already well known about but it was explained and exhibited that there was a much broader range of (worldwide) research underway implicating ever more linked deaths and many other adverse health impacts. Research, explained to be in a relatively new field, was also expected to grow in its scale and adverse impact identification as scientists began to explore and understand more.


Air pollution is now identified as one of Londoners major environmental concerns and is a headline issue in the imminent Mayoral election. In some cases this election may have resulted in the timing of some recent publications, in others it is unlikely to be an issue, but the last few weeks have undoubtedly added to the chance for the public to get to grips with and also demand change from this silent killer we too easily accept and very often contribute towards. There may well be other papers but the last few weeks alone saw the following cross my desk:


A joint report from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and the Royal College of Physicians which highlighted 40,000 related annual deaths in the UK and an extraordinary and scary plethora of adverse health impacts I summarised the health issues and a mitigating suggestion a press letter.


This browser does not support PDFs. Please download the PDF to view it: Download PDF




A report from The Institute For Public Policy research, “London: Global Green City”. Individuals can read for themselves but one highlight for me in the light of other commentary (below) was:
• Driven primarily by emissions from transport: nearly 25 per cent of school children are exposed to levels of air pollution that break EU and WHO legal and health limits.


The second of two joint reports “Up In The Air” from the Policy Foundation, King’s College London and The Capital City Foundation, including that:
• If air pollution stayed at current levels it would reduce the average life expectancy across all Londoners born in 2010 by up to 2 years. (Re-read this one)
• the shift from petrol to diesel vehicles over the last 15 years has been disastrous in terms of its impact on air quality and health.
• Research shows that Euro 5 diesel cars and vans are no better than the Euro 1 diesels sold in the early 1990s in terms of NOx emissions on the road. The latest Euro 6 diesel cars show some improvement but still have on-road emissions some 2.5 to 7 times higher than the Euro 6 standard. The introduction of a “Real Driving Emissions” test which better reflects real world emissions performance is a welcome step forward. But the European Commission has undermined the effectiveness of the test by incorporating a huge margin of error into the way that it will be implemented, in the form of so-called “conformity factors”. (Industry lobbying i was previously given to understand.)


And from the US, Columbia Medical Centre New York tracked 462 children from soon after conception and who are now aged 12-18. They are concluding that those exposed to the lowest air pollution levels (while in the womb) tended to mature normally, while those exposed to higher levels tended to be impulsive, were slow to develop social skills and friendships. The fear is that this may be a forerunner for antisocial and criminal behaviour. Research is continuing. Other research, also at Columbia, revealed actual physical differences in children’s brains correlating to prenatal air pollution levels with a contribution to slower brain processing speed, ADHD symptoms and other behavioural problems. These fears have prompted a study of 80,000 UK babies and children in the UK.


“The ever accumulating evidence that so many components of air pollution contribute to a diverse set of diseases confirms the urgent need to ……....” I guess we can all fill in our own suitable ending for personal, organisational and political actions for this (part) sentence from one of the UK’s leading air quality scientists. I can only say that based on what I heard that there is yet more bad news to come but by now everyone should have more than enough detail to know that change is necessary – and indeed imperative given the generational effects now identified.
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Poor Air Quality
14 Apr 2016 00:40 #2100

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Here are links to the reports that Karl refers to:

Up in the Air - Policy Exchange

London - Global Green City - Institute for Public Policy Research

The way forward suggested by Policy Exchange:

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Poor Air Quality
09 Jun 2016 08:57 #2152

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A question was raised about air quality and its monitoring at Bowes Primary School at the BHORA AGM (Tuesday 7 June 2016).

Tracking the latest position is straightforward via eg the phone app “London Air”. Note UK monitoring covers only (the legally required) NO2 and PM10’s, not the damaging PM2.5’s (not legally required).

On the R4 Today programme (Thursday 9th June) at about 7:12am, BBC i-player users who missed it will be able to hear Professor Frank Kelly, Chairman of COMEAP, the Department of Health’s Expert Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollution, and Liz Howard, a Bowes school parent, being interviewed live outside the school gates about the position – which for NO2 was said to be roughly twice the legal limit.

What was not said was that the legal limit does not equate to a safe-health limit, which is much lower. This is the same legal limit subject to a Supreme Court ruling against the Government last year and which appears will be subject to further legal action due to their claimed inadequate response. It is an EU wide Law.

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Poor Air Quality
11 Jun 2016 11:36 #2153

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This letter was printed in the Enfield Independent (and an edited version in the Advertiser) this week. The next day it was announced that Enfield would be one of ten boroughs receiving Mayoral funding to develop “clean air squads”. These will target stationary vehicles with running engines in eg residential areas and roads known for running engines. This follows successful trials.
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Air pollution - don't be reassured by the daily forecasts
19 Aug 2016 18:19 #2247

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The daily forecasts for air quality in London don't show "High" very often (but when they do, take notice!), but frequently show "Moderate" and often show "Low".

But don't be reassured by this and become complacent about the air quality crisis affecting London and other parts of the UK. Because the effects of toxic pollutants in our air are insidious and build up over time.

The air in London is polluted to some extent all the time and dangerously polluted about 50 per cent of the time and this has a cumulative effect on the health of every single one of us.

Where have I taken this information from? Some "green", "sandal-wearing", anti-establishment source? No, this information has been published by The Economist, a publication with views on the economy and politics that are not at all to my liking, but which does have the great merit of basing its articles on solid research and avoiding sloppy and alarmist reporting.

The Economist analysed a year's worth of air quality data and was so concerned about what it discovered that it has made its conclusions available to non-subscribers (most Economist articles are hidden behind a "pay-wall".

See this article from June and this recent article .

Interestingly, the Economist says that the situation in much better in the US. The reason? They don't have diesel cars there.

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