Just eight days into the new year, and London has already breached the annual limits on air pollution set by the EU. Recorded in the southwest of the capital, this is now the fifth year running that the U.K. has broken the limits, a trend that last year saw the supreme court order the government to produce an action plan on how to tackle the country’s growing air pollution issue. London is currently the worst city in Europe for air pollution, which is thought to contribute to almost 10,000 premature deaths each year in the city.
Under EU law, each location being monitored for air quality is only allowed to breach an hourly limit of 200 micrograms of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) per cubic meter of air 18 times per year. On January 8, the monitoring station in the district of Putney in southwest London breached the hourly limit for the 19th time this year. Other regions, such as Kensington and Chelsea are also expected to break the limit, and busy Oxford Street has almost certainly already done so, but the equipment is currently broken. Last year, Oxford Street breached the limit after just two days, and throughout the rest of 2015 broke the restriction a least a thousand times more.
The news has unsurprisingly been met with much criticism from environmental campaigners, with one group calling it “breathtaking.” The U.K. government has been panned even more for the fact that only last month they announced new outlines on how they were planning on addressing the ongoing issue of illegal air pollution across the country. Campaigners have claimed that the proposal falls “far short” of the action necessary to deal with the problem.
“This is exactly why we are taking the government back to court,” says Alan Andrews, a lawyer for Client Earth, an environmental law group challenging the U.K. government over their air pollution plan, published in December. “Its failure to deal with illegal levels of air pollution, which causes thousands of early deaths in London every year, is a scandal.”
Last year, a seperate report conducted by researchers at Kings College London revealed that in London alone an estimated 9,500 people each year – or 26 people a day – die prematurely due to air pollution. Most of these deaths were attributed to NO2, which is produced by diesel cars, trucks, and buses, and can inflame the lining, affect the capacity, and increase the chance of infection in the lungs, especially among children. Across the entire U.K., it’s estimated that an extra 30,000 people a year die from health problems related to air pollution.