London pollution alert issued as regional air quality deemed 'unsafe'
Following several days of high local transport emissions coupled with light winds bringing particulate pollution to the UK from mainland Europe, a high air pollution alert has been issued for London.
The alert issued on Tuesday (27 February) warns that, while air pollution levels outer London boroughs are likely to remain ‘low’ or ‘moderate’, those in central London or next to busy roads are set to be ‘high’ or ‘very high’ this week.
In response to the alert, London Mayor Sadiq Khan has activated the capital’s digital alert communication system which warns the general public to avoid areas with high pollution levels if possible. The system covers displays at all 270 London Underground stations, 2,500 electronic bus countdown signs and 140 roadside signs, urging motorists to switch off their engines in traffic and pedestrians to avoid walking along busy roads.
“The high levels of pollution expected over the next few days is evidence of the scale of London’s air quality crisis and is exactly why the Mayor is taking hard-hitting measures to clean it up,” a spokesperson for the Mayor’s office said.
The alert marks the tenth time that an air pollution warning has been issued for London since Khan was elected in May 2016, with the last alert having been announced last July. Indeed, most areas of the capital were found to have breached their annual air pollution limits within a few weeks last year.
In a bid to tackle the problem, Khan has launched a wide-ranging set of initiatives to improve air quality in the capital. A headline scheme is the UK’s first Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), which will launch across central London on 8 April. The Mayor is additionally running a £23m van scrappage fund to help charities and small businesses switch to cleaner vehicles and recently doubled the amount of funding business owners and London residents can apply for when scrapping older cars.
In parallel to these actions, businesses across London have been taking action to reduce their own transport emissions. 17 major businesses and organisations have already committed to replacing their van fleets with EVs by 2028, for example, while companies on London’s Bond Street – one of the capital’s most polluted – have collaborated to slash the amount of CO2e and NOx emitted by freight vehicles travelling in the area by 76%.
The air pollution alert came shortly after the launch of a new air quality map, which reveals that almost 2,000 UK locations have breached their annual nitrogen dioxide (NO2) limit less than two months into 2019.
Published by green campaign group Friends of the Earth (FOtE), the map claims that 1,845 sites across the nation have already flouted their annual Air Quality Objective limits.
Of the 10 areas found to have the highest annual average NO2 concentrations by FOtE, eight are in London, with the worst-affected being Earl’s Court Station in Kensington. The station has had an average daily recording of 129.5 micrograms of NO2 per cubic metre (μg/m3) since 1 January, compared with the 40μg/m3 limit set out in the government’s air quality objectives.
Outside of the capital, air in Doncaster and Leeds was found to be some of the nation’s most polluted. Popular locations in the South East, including Brighton and Maidstone, were also found to be suffering from toxic levels of air pollution.
“Air pollution is often an issue thought of as affecting only the biggest cities, but the reality is that unacceptably toxic air can be found across much of the UK, even in smaller towns,” FOtE’s clean air campaigner Simon Bowens said.
“The Government needs to step up and do more to help deal with this air pollution crisis – it can’t just carry on leaving the difficult decisions with local authorities, many of which are severely under-resourced.”
The map is the latest call to action for the Government to bolster its air pollution policies, which have been condemned as “woefully inadequate” by city leaders and “inexcusable” by doctors.
Sixteen UK city leaders are currently urging Prime Minister Theresa May to set aside an extra £1.5bn of investment to boost the existing Clean Air Fund, for example. This campaign follows the publication of a similar letter urging the Government to implement "tough and urgent action" to reduce the nation's air pollution levels, which was sent to Prime Minister Theresa May by a group of 17 mayors last August.