London's Air Pollution out of Control

Is London's air pollution out of control? Simon Birkett, Director of Clean Air in London has just pointed out that the capital has, by far, the worst nitrogen dioxide pollution in Europe. London stands to face huge penalties from the European Commission, which oversees legal standards for pollution levels in Member States. A number of other areas in the UK are not far behind London's levels of nitrogen dioxide pollution (Eastern, East Midlands, Glasgow, Kingston upon Hull, Greater Manchester, North East, North West and Merseyside, The Potteries, Southampton, South East, South Wales, Teesside, West Midlands, West Yorkshire, and Yorkshire and Humberside).

Simon Birkett said: "London has the highest concentration of nitrogen dioxide of the 27 capital cities in Europe after a decade of inaction by successive Governments. London has now twice breached, within days, legal standards. Legal standards required since 1999 to be met by January 2010 and concentrations near our busiest roads average well over twice the legal limit."

So, if you do live near a busy road, these are a couple of the short term health threats you face when you step out of doors:

  • Flare ups of asthma symptoms
  • Decreased lung function in Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
  • Increased risk of lung infection for kids
  • Sore eyes, blocked nose, and throat irritation.

The long term health effects of air pollution are more severe and range from cancer, heart attacks to low birth weight. Nitrogen dioxide is a product of burning. Outdoor nitrogen dioxide pollution - which UK environmental legislation is clearly failing to control - comes mainly from vehicles burning petrol and diesel. But don’t think you can escape nitrogen dioxide by staying indoors. There really is no hiding place and indoor air pollution is often many times worse then outdoor pollution. Outdoor air pollution can accumulate indoors as it seeps in through windows, doors and other openings. Furthermore, gas stoves, heaters and environmental tobacco smoke are potent sources of nitrogen dioxide pollution too. So that in many homes, indoor nitrogen dioxide pollution actually exceed the levels outdoors.

You should protect your health from nitrogen dioxide by taking the following steps:

  • Install and use an exhaust fan vented to outdoors over gas stoves or change to an electric stove.
  • Have a thorough check of gas central heating every year.
  • Keep all your gas appliances properly adjusted.
  • Use an air purifier with a significant amount of quality gas filtration media.

There are no agreed standards for acceptable maximum levels of nitrogen dioxide in indoor air (the same goes for many other pollutants). But we do have standards for outdoor air. How come other countries are tackling the problem and stay within legal limits for nitrogen dioxide pollution? You wonder why is London's air pollution out of control.  If you have some suggestions please let me know. Until then: Come on Boris, Dave - give us a convincing plan. We don’t want EC fines and penalties - the NHS needs that money to treat people that already have chronic respiratory problems due to the high levels of air pollution in the UK.