Every area of the capital breaches global standards for PM2.5 pollution particles, with most areas exceeding levels by at least 50%
The scale of London’s air pollution crisis was laid bare on Wednesday, with new figures showing that every person in the capital is breathing air that exceeds global guidelines for one of the most dangerous toxic particles.
The research, based on the latest updated London Atmospheric Emissions Inventory, shows that every area in the capital exceeds World Health Organisation (WHO) limits for a damaging type of particle known as PM2.5.
It also found that 7.9 million Londoners – nearly 95% of the capital’s population – live in areas that exceed the limit by 50% or more. In central London the average annual levels are almost double the WHO limit of 10 µg/m3.
The findings, described as “sickening” by London mayor Sadiq Khan, have serious health implications – especially for children – with both short and long-term exposure to these particulates increasing the likelihood of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. Health experts say that youngsters exposed to these toxic pollutants are more likely to grow up with reduced lung function and develop asthma.
Khan said: “It’s sickening to know that not a single area of London meets World Health Organisation health standards, but even worse than that, nearly 95% of the capital is exceeding these guidelines by at least 50%.”
London is widely recognised as the worst area for air pollution in the UK, although there is growing evidence that dangerously polluted air is damaging people’s health in towns and cities across the country.
Khan added: “We should be ashamed that our young people – the next generation of Londoners – are being exposed to these tiny particles of toxic dust that are seriously damaging their lungs and shortening their life expectancy. I understand this is really difficult for Londoners, but that’s why I felt it was so important that I made this information public so people really understand the scale of the challenge we face in London.”
The mayor’s office said around half of PM2.5 in London is from sources outside the city. However, the main sources of PM2.5 emissions in London are from tyre and brake wear, construction and wood burning.
Last week Khan unveiled plans to limit the use of wood burning stoves in the capital from 2025 and tighten up regulations to make sure all new stoves from 2022 are as clean as possible.
He has also set out a range of plans to tackle pollution from diesel cars in the capital. The first stage, the new T-Charge, which will charge older, more polluting vehicles entering central London, starts later this month.
Clean air campaigners have welcomed Khan’s plans, which include the introduction of a low emission zone in 2019, but have called on the mayor to take more urgent, immediate action in light of the scale of the crisis.
The mayor was due to release the latest findings on Wednesday morning as he signed London up to the Breathe Life coalition organised by WHO, UN Environment and Clean Climate and Clean Air Coalition, at a special conference at City Hall.
The initiative aims to connect similar world cities, combine expertise, share best practice and work together to improve air quality.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, welcomed London’s support and Khan’s measures aimed at tackling air pollution.
“To ensure good health, every person must be able to breathe clean air no matter where they live. London’s plan to clean up their air means millions of people will be able to walk to work and walk their children to school without worrying about whether the air is going to make them sick. More cities around the world must also follow suit.”
Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment, said: “This is great news for Londoners. This support for the Breathe Life campaign and Sadiq Khan’s leadership means that millions of people can cease being hostage to toxic fumes. It sets an example of positive action that we hope cities around the world will follow.”
Paul Morozzo, clean air campaigner at Greenpeace said: “London air isn’t safe to breathe. Every person in London is affected by this crisis – old or young, healthy or ill. The air you breathe in London is putting your health at risk now and in the future, whether you realise it or not.
“Restricting diesel will make a big difference to both PM and nitrogen oxide air pollution in London, which is why the Mayor has no choice but to get tough on cleaning up our roads.”