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All we need is the air that we breathe to be cleaner

PUBLISHED: 18:05 07 April 2009 | UPDATED: 16:04 07 September 2010

BY CARL UPSHALL of the MARYLEBONE ASSOCIATION The words echo the Hollies song, but they also express the truth for many Londoners. Air pollution causes around 1,000 premature deaths every year in the capital. The problem is so bad in Marylebone that the Marylebone Road was used as the meeting point

The words echo the Hollies' song, but they also express the truth for many Londoners. Air pollution causes around 1,000 premature deaths every year in the capital.

The problem is so bad in Marylebone that the Marylebone Road was used as the meeting point for the Greater London Assembly's all-party environment committee with air quality expert Gary Fuller of King's College London. Mr Fuller welcomed the committee members to the site and explained how researchers at King's are using the detailed air pollution measurements at Marylebone Road and new traffic measurements to quantify the linkages between vehicle emissions and air quality.

Because of the notoriously poor air quality along this road it is also the location for London's best-equipped air quality measuring station. You may, like me, have walked past a dark green hut opposite Madam Tussaud's without even noticing it. Inside it is packed with equipment to measure carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, ozone and airborne particles of various sizes, and has been doing so for years. Statistics for 1993 to 2009 are available on the London Air Quality Network's website: http://www.londonair.org.uk/

This helps to uncover some dramatic changes which, because they are invisible to the naked eye, we are mostly unaware of.

Thirty years ago the big problem across London was sulphur dioxide from heavy industry to the east of London and coal-fired power stations. Carbon monoxide has been dealt with by the fitting of catalytic converters to vehicle exhaust systems.

But the bad news comes in the form of nitrous dioxide, which leapt up by 30 per cent in 2003 and has stayed at that level ever since. This is a concern for the health of anyone living near busy roads. At very high levels, nitrogen dioxide gas irritates and inflames the airways of the lungs, making conditions for anyone with lung or respiratory diseases even worse. And it seems that the main reasons for the rise in NO2 are the increase in traffic and a shift towards diesel for domestic vehicles.

The other problem area is in airborne particles (measured as PM10 and PM2.5). Again, it seems that diesel vehicles are major contributors.

In the light of this it is unhelpful for the Mayor to have taken two steps which are likely to aggravate the problem. Emissions checks on London taxis have been halved, and the evidence points to an increase in the number of taxis being in breach of air quality standards between tests. Also, the low emissions zone (LEZ) standards were due to be applied to vans as well as lorries, but this has been scrapped by Mr Johnson.

The air quality on Marylebone's roads is much worse than the target set for any road in Europe, and the Government had pinned its hopes on new vehicle technology. But as new vehicle sales have slumped, we will see older and dirtier, rather than newer cleaner cars on the roads.

The health effects of poor air quality need monitoring in as many ways as possible. At the moment the London Air Quality Group have information from hospitals on chronic conditions, but they are keen to have better information on early signs of problems: for example, school sickness records where these can show breathing problems. So if you are staff, pupil or parent of a child at St. Mary's primary school or St Marylebone School for Girls, please get involved in the GLA survey (the rather long URL is below) or by contacting the London Air Quality Group.

http://www.surveymonkey.com/s.aspx?sm=Vhc_2bqqbCW1hen6ZItqmXug_3d_3d

Carl Upsall

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