Air Clean Up

How Long Did London Take to Exceed Pollution Limits in 2018?

Feb 07 2018 Read 1018 Times

It has taken one street in the UK capital just one month to break air pollution limits for the entirety of 2018. Brixton Road in Lambeth, widely regarded as the most polluted street in the UK for air quality, has already exceeded “safe” levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) more than 18 times in January – which is the EU legal threshold for the whole year.

Minor progress?

Those with an optimistic outlook can at least point to the fact that it has taken Brixton Road longer to break legal limits than it did last year. In 2017, the pollution hotspot took just five days to surpass the 18-day threshold; the year before, it recorded unsafe levels on NO2 on 502 occasions, more than 27 times the legal amount.

While certain quarters (and in particular, a Conservative government which has come increasingly under criticism for its inaction on air pollution) might interpret this as an improvement, others have pointed out that the discrepancy could be attributable to nothing more than favourable weather conditions. Regardless of the reason, it’s clear that more must be done to enhance air quality in the capital.

“This event is now an annual spectacle highlighting [the] government’s abject failure to tackle the toxic air cloaking our towns and cities,” explained Mel Evans, a clean air campaigner for Greenpeace. “The government could make a real difference very quickly by replicating London’s evidence-led approach across the country, and yet it still advocates clean air zones only as a last resort.”

Faltering steps

Since taking office in 2016, London Mayor Sadiq Khan has made a concerted effort to improve air quality and reduce transport-related pollution. Among other measures, he has brought in a fleet of cleaner buses to service routes around the capital that are particularly prone to poor air quality and raised the charge levied against the more polluting diesel cars entering the city limits.

Khan has indicated he would like to introduce even stronger reforms to tackle the air quality crisis in London, but is currently hamstrung by government policy. Certain quarters of the capital have considered prohibiting diesel and petrol cars during peak traffic times altogether, in a bid to encourage the use of electric vehicles (EVs), public transport and bicycles.

However, such proposals are very much at the drawing board stage and would likely face a significant amount of resistance from those commuting in the capital. Moreover, recent studies show that the city’s famous Underground system can be eight times as contaminated as air above ground, proving that the problem might not be quite so easy to solve. In any case, further action is undoubtedly needed if London is to escape the same embarrassment in 2019.

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