healthHealth and Medicine

London Breached Its Yearly Air Pollution Limit Just Five Days Into 2017


Robin Andrews

Science & Policy Writer

We're number one! We're number one! Oh, wait. photogl/Shutterstock

London’s a thoroughly lovely place to live, but it does have at least one persistent problem – air pollution. While not quite as bad as the super smoggy skies of Beijing, it has just breached its legal limits for toxic air for the entire year in just five days.

That’s a new record. Last year saw the same limit broken in eight days. London has broken these limits for six years in a row as of 2017, and it is still the worst city in Europe in terms of air pollution.


Dangerous air pollution is measured in terms of how much nitrogen dioxide (NO2), sulfur dioxide (SO2), and particulate matter there is in various parts of the city. Particulates can lacerate the inside of your lungs and airways, while the two gases can cause cardiovascular, respiratory, and nervous system damage.

Under EU law, hourly levels of NO2 must not be more than 200 micrograms per cubic meter any more frequently than 18 times in 365 days. However, late on Thursday, with 360 days still left to go, this limit was broken in Lambeth, a borough in south London.


Previous estimates suggest that 40,000 people in the UK die every single year as a direct result of air pollution, with the majority of these occurring in London.  A study out this month also revealed that living near busy roads increases the risk of developing dementia in later life partly because of such pollutants.

The majority of NO2 comes from diesel-fueled vehicles, and this gas is responsible for around 9,500 deaths per year in London alone. Generally speaking, these vehicles’ emission systems are poorly regulated, and it is this lack of oversight that is the main reason why London keeps breaching its air pollution limits.


The new mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has drawn up nearly a billion pounds' worth of pollution-cutting plans for the next five years. Public transport, particularly taxis, will be encouraged to convert to hydrogen fuel cells from conventional petrol ones. An ultra-low emissions zone will also require the drivers of the oldest, most polluting cars to pay a hefty charge for driving through much of central London.

As reported by the Guardian, the UK Government has twice attempted to enact similar mitigation measures, but the High Court ruled their plans illegal simply because they would be so profoundly ineffective at cutting pollution.


Air pollution is responsible for tens of millions of deaths worldwide every single year. Although some of this can be traced back to fossil fuel power plants and construction work, the vast majority comes from diesel cars. Some cities, including Paris and Mexico City, have banned diesel vehicles altogether – and it looks like London needs to up its game and follow suit.

[H/T: Guardian]


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