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2017

Understanding the air we breathe

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Most UK cities suffer from traffic-related pollution, but London’s high buildings, dense road network and sheer size make our city one of the most polluted places in the country.

The impact of air pollution on our health and the environment is well documented. While the 1956 Clean Air Act helped rid London of its infamous ‘pea souper’ smogs, poor air quality remains a significant public health issue. Monitoring data showing that Brixton Road in Lambeth had breached annual legal limits for toxic air just five days into 2017 have added impetus to calls for a new Clean Air Act, to radically improve our city’s air quality once again. Campaigners want to see speedier progress on tackling nitrogen dioxide and microscopic airborne particles (particulate matter) that are linked to asthma, lung cancer and cardiorespiratory diseases.

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London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan has highlighted the need to tackle air pollution as a priority. His plans include extending the city’s ultra-low emission zone beyond central London, while his draft transport strategy published for consultation in June 2017 includes the goal of making London a zero emission city by 2050.

Many of the city’s air quality measures have been informed by research at King’s. Indeed, the Environmental Research Group, part of the Faculty of Life Sciences & Medicine, is a leading provider of air quality information and research in the UK. Its widely recognised work encompasses the measurement of air pollution, assessment of its toxicity and impacts on health, whilst output from its research informs both national and international regulatory bodies’ policy.

A major report by the Group for the Greater London Authority (GLA) and Transport for London in 2015 estimated that air pollution was responsible for up to 141,000 life-years lost (equivalent to 9,400 deaths) in the capital in 2010, as well as around 3,400 hospital admissions, with a total economic cost of this estimated at up to £3.7 billion. The Group continues to work closely with the GLA and those responsible for air quality management to support policies and actions to minimise air pollution health effects.

The Group also creates technology to enable Londoners to monitor their exposure, and to understand the impact of pollutants on their health. The technology uses data provided by the Environmental Research Group’s London Air Quality Network (LAQN).

Formed in 1993, the network – now the largest in Europe – collects air pollution data from London boroughs and surrounding areas. By analysing this data, the LAQN can assess how bad air pollution is on a day to day basis, and identify the worst areas. It can also see how pollutants interact with each other, and how they relate to traffic density or industrial activity.

The LAQN website, Londonair.org.uk, shares this information with Londoners in ways that can help improve their quality of everyday life in the city. People worried about pollution, or who have health problems worsened by pollution, can access up-to-date information and health advice from Londonair.org.uk, including via a smartphone app. This site offers a street-by-street map of pollution levels updated hourly, an emissions calculator and a route planner based on lower pollution levels.

Find out more about the work of the Environmental Research Group here.

Download the London Air app here.

 

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