Updates from Environmental Experts

London Air Pollution: Above Annual Air Quality Limit in 5 days

Ziv Lautman

Londoners are no stranger to poor air quality, but this year, the city seems to have finally outdone itself. On January 5th, just five days into 2017, London air pollution exceeded its annual limit in many sites across town. 


There are 97 air pollution monitoring sites in London, and every hour they measure five major pollutants: ozone (O3), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), particulate matter 10 & 2.5 (PM10, PM2.5), and sulphur dioxide (SO2). NO2 tends to be the dominant pollutant, both in London and many cities across the world, because it’s the primary emission from engines, especially diesel cars. By law, these monitoring sites aren’t supposed to have more than 200 micrograms per cubic meter of NO2 more than 18 times a year. But, just days into 2017, that limit has already been broken in many sites across the city.


This isn’t the first time this has happened, either: for the past 3 years, it has taken no longer than 7 days for the city to breach its annual limit. This year, though, by only taking 5 days, the city seems to have set a record it’d rather have avoided.


London’s air pollution is going from bad to worse

This really underscores just how much of an issue air quality truly is in London, and how important it is to take swift action against it. In 2016, 60% of the 97 air pollution sites exceeded their annual limit, many of them by a long shot. Putney High Street, for example, broke the limit more than 1,200 times. In fact, Marylebone High Street was recently found to be the most polluted site in Europe, and the U.K. is second only to Italy for the highest number of deaths from NO2.


While it may not be easy for Londoners to see, the city’s pollution has very real consequences: it’s estimated that NO2 pollution causes 5,900 early deaths every year in London, especially due to lung cancer and strokes. Also, not to mention the fact that pollution-related health issues have cost £27.5 billion to manage.


Despite increased funding from Mayor Sadiq Khan and MP’s calling air pollution a “public health emergency” last year, the federal government has struggled to address the issue. Government inaction seemed to persist until last November, when a lawsuit by environmental law firm ClientEarth went to British High Court, which ruled that the government must immediately take action against illegal pollution levels.


Searching for more personal, accurate data


So far, government proposals have been ruled illegal twice because their reduction targets weren’t ambitious enough. The importance of cities having accurate, reliable air quality data comes into play here, too: part of the reason these proposals were ruled illegal was because the MP’s used “over-optimistic” pollution modelling, which was based on lab tests and not actual real-time road emissions. This highlights the difference between data from government air quality monitoring stations compared to providers like BreezoMeter.

BreezoMeter uses various layers of data - not only readings from monitoring stations, but also traffic patterns and more - to understand pollution levels. Because what really matters is that citizens know what they are breathing; where they are, and not at the monitor location. It requires to analyze and validate air pollution dispersion and raw data, then translate the results in intuitive and actionable information and recommendations.


Next steps for London air pollution


There’s no easy fix to urban pollution – there have been a ton of proposals, from banning diesel cars to creating “low emissions zones” and more – but if London and other global hotspots are going to make meaningful progress on reducing air pollution, it’s clear that the first thing citizens, policymakers, and other stakeholders need is more reliable, actionable data about the air they breathe.


“The time for legal action is over,” James Thornton from ClientEarth said. “The high court has ruled that more urgent action must be taken. Britain is watching and waiting”. It’s time to make progress.




Does your city need real-time air quality? Check out our solutions for smart cities, or set up a phone call with us. If you’re concerned about the air in your city, download our app to monitor it in real-time. Thanks for reading!


Further reading


London mayor to double funding to tackle air pollution

London breaches toxic air pollution limit for 2017 in just five days

Dementia rates ‘higher near busy roads’

UK has second highest number of deaths from NO2 pollution in Europe

MPs: UK air pollution is a ‘public health emergency’

High court rules UK government plans to tackle air pollution are illegal

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