Spikes of illegal air pollution fall by 97% from 2016 levels

Spikes of illegal air pollution fall by 97% from 2016 levels


Air pollution levels in London rarely spiked above the legal limits last year, newly released data has shown, though residents continue to be exposed to unhealthy levels of toxic gas.

The capital exceeded the hourly legal limit for nitrogen dioxide, a chemical linked to lung disease, cardiovascular problems and premature death, for just over 100 hours last year. This marks a 97 per cent decrease in illegal spikes from 2016, when the legal limit for nitrogen dioxide was exceeded for over 4,000 hours, nearly half the year.

Mayor Sadiq Khan said in a statement it was “undeniable” London’s “bold action” to curb pollution was improving the city’s air quality.

The law requires that toxic gas concentration stay below an average of 40 micrograms per cubic metre and that it not spike above 200 micrograms more than 18 times a year.

From 2004 to 2017 the limit on toxic air spikes was broken in the first week of the year, but in 2019, there was just one breach and it was not until July. Overall, the concentration of nitrogen dioxide has fallen by an average of 20 per cent at every site monitored since 2016.

Still, average roadside air pollution in the city was above the legal limit from January to July last year, and at some sites such as Oxford Street, average levels of air pollution remained illegal even as the number of spikes there fell below the legal maximum.

The recent decline in air pollution is due in part to the city’s Ultra Low Emission Zone. Some 13,500 fewer vehicles now travel in the charging area every day.

In addition, the Mayor’s 12 low-emission bus zones have cut nitrogen dioxide gas out of the air around them by 90 per cent, according to a press release.

Caroline Russell, leader of City Hall Greens, praised the Mayor’s efforts but said there remains “much more to be done” especially in regards to pollution near schools.

She said: “We still have nearly 300 schools in areas of very high pollution, schools that have so far been neglected and aren’t included in the Mayor’s school air audits.

“Simple interventions like green screens, moving the entrance of the school or keeping roads alongside schools free of traffic when pupils are arriving and leaving, can reduce exposure to pollution.

“The Mayor should make sure every school our young people attend won’t harm their health.”

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