London air pollution is already over the legal limit for this year

london pollution

writer icon Kay Lagercrantz     Albrecht Fietz   |   City     🕐 15. Feb. 2018

Brixton Road in London has exceeded the legal limit for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) emissions for 2018. It is the first area of London to go over the limit for 2018, passing the cut-off point on 31 January. It is expected that several other areas of London will follow.

Most of the urban areas in the UK go over this limit every year, as these breaches occur mostly along busy roads and in areas with high levels of traffic. London is notorious as one of the worst cities for the toxic NO2 emissions, despite efforts to reduce heavy traffic and switch to more environmentally friendly vehicles.

Double the legal limit
Legal limits were set by the European Commission in 1999, with a deadline for compliance by 2010, and the limit for NO2 emissions is set at 40μg/m3 (microgrammes per cubic metre). Brixton Road clocked in with an average of 94μg/m3 last year, more than double the limit. Research carried out by Dr Anna Font and Dr Gary Fuller from the Environmental Research Group at King’s College London showed that levels of NO2 were worsening every year since 2005, up until 2010. Since legal compliance came into play, results have been improving, albeit slowly. If we compare this year to last for example, in 2017 The Brixton Road area had already breached the legal limit by January 5th of that year.

Attempts to reduce high levels
In December 2017 Brixton Road was named as one of London’s low emission zones. This is part of a bid by the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan to set up a total of 12 low emission bus zones around Central London, in an attempt to reduce the amount of NO2 polluting the air. Brixton Road and the bus route Brixton-Streatham passes several primary schools and there are fears of the NO2 levels causing respiration problems and shortening life-expectancy.

Studies have been done to see if the introduction of Green Screens could help clean the air for those children who must attend school in the highly polluted areas of London. While results show an improvement in air quality after implementing Green Screens, the improvement is not significant enough at this stage, and the level of pollution is still unsafe.

Court action
The British government is currently being sued in the High Court by environmental lawyers ClientEarth for not dealing with the illegally high levels of pollution. This is forcing the government to do more to tackle air pollution and improve on their action plan for a safer environment and clean air. In February 2017, Mayor Sadiq Khan announced plans to introduce an ultra low emission zone, which will be brought into effect in 2019 and span beyond Central London.

While we are seeing gradual improvements in the quality of air across London, results are still a long way from the levels that were supposed to be reached by 2010.

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