London air pollution danger to life among all age groups


London air pollution danger to life among all age groups


FACT BOX: In London, 9’400 premature deaths are attributed to poor air quality and a cost of between £1.4 and £3.7 billion a year to the health service. (Fact check this statistic with official government figures here)

Air pollution causes harm and is a risk to life for people at all stages of life. Starting with foetal growth damage to reducing adult sperm count and cognitive damage in the elderly, new research has shown.

A review of the current evidence from Imperial College London found there is no safe limit for particulate matter. Evidence on the effects of air pollution, drawing from more than 35’000 studies in the last 10 years, has detailed the ways it causes harm from pre-birth to old age.

The researchers, from Imperial College London’s Environmental Research Group, asserts that particulate matter (PM2.5) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) are particularly harmful and both commonly found in vehicle exhausts.

There is no evidence to identify a threshold where PM2.5 does no harm and even people living in the least polluted suburbs of London are still being affected.

The Blackwall tunnel southern approach in Greenwich, due to East-London’s embarrassingly poor river crossing facilities and unreliable ferry service, is one of the most congested parts of London, in turn one of the most congested cities in the world.

In 2023 a study by the UK Government’s British Broadcasting Corporation, confirmed that London is the most heavily congested city on earth with the slowest moving traffic. Slow moving traffic not only damages car engines and reduces efficiency and builds up toxic deposits especially in commercial diesel vehicles, drains electric vehicles but also allows for pollutants to pool causing localised hotspots of pollution.

A separate study conducted in 2023 by the International Press and Media Group found the Blackwall Tunnel Southern Approach in Greenwich to be the slowest moving in London. During peak rush times traffic can move as slow as 2 mph over a distance of 8 miles. Journeys from Woolwich to St Katherine’s Marina and from Lewisham to Ilford were mapped out via the Blackwall tunnel travelling south to north during morning and evening peak times. Sunday’s proved to be the slowest moving with an average speed across both journeys over 20 trips coming in at just 8 mph with a range of 2 mph – 11 mph. The city wide average speed is approximately 12 mph across all days and times according to the BBC study. It should be noted that much of London has a maximum lawful speed of 20 mph heavily enforced by police. London’s congestion can not be blamed purely on its size. With a metropolitan population of 14.8 million, London is dwarfed by the likes of Tokyo with 37.2 million people in its metropolitan area. Instead poor city planning, road planning and governance have lead to a system of narrow, unfit for purpose, potholed rat-run streets that twist and wind in a network of financial traps from cameras and ‘traffic calming measures’. The extremely poor surface of London’s roads may destroy your car but the terrible layout and design is destroying our health.

The Imperial College study authors wrote: “While headline figures on the health impact of air pollution focus on the equivalent number of premature deaths, the wider impacts are hiding in plain sight in the contribution of air pollution to the burden of chronic diseases. These affect our quality of life and have a large cost to society through additional health and social care costs, as well our ability to learn, work and contribute to society.”

During pregnancy, air pollution harms foetal development and can cause low birth weight, miscarriages and a low sperm count in men.

In children, it can stunt lung growth, cause asthma and affect blood pressure, cognitive abilities and mental health.

In adulthood, it makes early death more likely through multiple chronic illnesses, cancer and strokes.

“Perhaps, the most important new finding is evidence related to both the impact of air pollution on brain health, including mental health and dementia, and early life impacts that could lead to future health burdens within the population. Both represent significant, but currently unquantified costs to society and the economy.” London’s workforce and education systems have been overrun with a “mental health crisis” in recent years with a wide range of theories for the causes postured by politicians and academics, not all connected to pollution, with hypothesise also including among many others, poor quality of medical standards, social-labelling and economic deprivation.

Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah was the first person to have air pollution legally recognised and listed as a cause of death for an individual person in the UK. She died in 2013 at the age of nine after suffering an asthma attack brought on by inhaling traffic fumes. The UK is still believed to massively under report and record such fatalities.

Public Health England estimated that up to 43’000 people a year are dying  (Approximately 22% in London alone) in the UK because of air pollution and that it could cost the country as much as £18.6 billion per year by 2035 unless action is taken.

The authors of the current Imperial College London research said: “Policies should be aimed at reducing the accumulating harm from air pollution and the health degradation, in addition to protecting people who have become vulnerable to current pollution concentrations.”

Their work was commissioned by the Greater London Authority (The GLA is London’s devolved government akin to Scottish Holyrood and the Welsh Assembly) and drew heavily on findings from the World Health Organisation, the UK Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollution, the Royal College of Physicians, the Health Effects Institute, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer.


© 2023 Al-Sahawat Times, Printed and Distributed by IPMG, an Al-Said Group entity. 

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Francesca Webb
Official account of Francesca Webb. Canadian-Italian globetrotter, journalist and PR manager.