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08/10/2020

Air quality in London improves

Words: Laura Edgar
Pollution

The number of state primary and secondary schools located in areas exceeding legal pollution limits declined from 455 in 2016 to 14 in 2019, according to the Mayor of London.

This is a decline of 97 per cent.

The data also shows that there was a 94 per cent reduction in the number of Londoners living in areas exceeding the legal limits for nitrogen dioxide (NO2).

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan acknowledges the “significant progress” made, but “tens of thousands of Londoners still breathe illegally polluted air and 99 per cent of Londoners live in areas exceeding the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended guidelines for PM2.5, which are much tighter than the legal standards”. 

He points out that research shows that the people exposed to the worst air pollution are more likely to be deprived Londoners and from Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities and emerging evidence links air pollution with an increased vulnerability to the most severe effects of Covid-19.

The data in the report comes from the Environmental Research Group at Imperial College London.

Measures introduced by the mayor include a 24-hour Ultra Low Emission Zone  (ULEZ), which City Hall says has contributed to a reduction of 44 per cent in NO2, but as 24 per cent of inner London roads are still exceeding the legal limits for NO2 “much more work” is needed.

“This underlines the need to expand the ULEZ to the North and South Circular roads in 2021 as 3.8 million people live within the expanded ULEZ zone,” says City Hall. 

 Khan also wants to see air quality standards adopted in the environment bill. 

He said: “I was elected on a mandate to deliver hard-hitting measures to tackle our toxic air crisis. The report confirms the transformative impact that my policies have had in just four years. I’m pleased that Londoners are breathing cleaner air, that we’re saving the NHS billions of pounds and preventing over a million hospital admissions.

“However, air pollution remains a major public health challenge and it’s time for government to step up, set ambitious national targets and provide the powers and funding we need to consign air pollution to the history books. We can’t sleep-walk from the health crisis of Covid back into complacency over the major impact of toxic air on everyone’s health.”

Senior lecturer in air pollution measurement at Imperial College London, Dr Gary Fuller, added: “In our operations centre we have been measuring London’s air pollution for nearly 30 years. During this time we’ve seen deteriorations followed by a long period when some places showed slow improvement, and others slowly worsened. It felt like we were at a standstill. But, the changes in nitrogen dioxide in central London and along main bus routes before Covid were some of the fastest that we’ve ever measured. Starting around 2016, London’s air pollution underwent a dramatic change and this time it was change for the better. These successes show that our city’s air pollution is not an intractable problem and further action can bring even greater results.”

Image credit | iStock

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