Air pollution is a killer. Although our fossil fuel obsession is costing us many lives indirectly in the form of natural disasters and climatic extremes, airborne toxins and particulates are dramatically cutting life expectancies right before our very eyes.
It’s far from the worst city in the world in this regard, but London has a serious air pollution problem, one that its mayor Sadiq Khan has been keen to emphasize during his nascent tenure. Now, government research has indicated that the problem is far worse than previously thought: Every single area in the capital exceeds the limit for safe levels of air pollution.
“I understand this is really difficult for Londoners,” Khan told an environmental conference, as reported by the Evening Standard. “But that’s why I felt it was so important that I made this information public so people really understand the scale of the challenge we face.”
The limit in this question is the World Health Organization’s (WHO) PM2.5. This refers to the concentration of dangerous particles – emitted by power plants, construction work, fires, and traffic – that are no larger than 2.5 microns, which is small enough to inhale and have lodged in your respiratory system and even within your bloodstream.
Enough of these particles can cause serious illnesses, and the very young, the elderly and the already infirmed are at the highest risk. The fact that the entire British capital is exceeding this safety limit, then, is bad news – and as a recent, separate analysis has shown, this will significantly reduce the life expectancy of anyone living here long-term.
The government research also revealed that 7.9 million Londoners, about 95 percent of the population, live in areas that experienced PM2.5 pollution levels that exceed the WHO’s limits by at least 50 percent. Generally speaking, the more centrally you live, the worse you are affected. Living alongside a busy road, especially if it’s near a motorway, is also particularly risky.
The mayor, fortunately, is keen to act on this clear and present threat.
“If PM2.5 reduction measures within the Mayor’s Transport Strategy and London Environment Strategy are accompanied by co-operation on a national and international level,” the report states, “the [WHO] guideline limit is achievable by 2030.”
This refers to Khan’s plans to drawdown London’s air pollution. Since he was first elected, he’s made it a signature issue, one that will focus on the smaller scale problems (wood-fired stoves) to the more challenging (phasing out diesel vehicles). An ultra-low emissions zone is also planned for 2019.
It must be noted that the current UK government has been hesitant to act on the problem, and when plans are agreed upon by Downing Street, it seems that they are nowhere near expansive enough – technically or financially speaking.