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Data reveals major improvement in London’s air quality since 2016

Even before lockdown, measures implemented by the mayor have helped to bring about a 94 per cent reduction in the number of Londoners living in areas exceeding legal limits for nitrogen dioxide.

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Mayor Sadiq Khan wants government to step up and set ambitious national targets
Mayor Sadiq Khan wants government to step up and set ambitious national targets

Latest data reveals a major improvement in London’s air quality since 2016. New modelling of pollution in 2019 shows that measures implemented by the mayor have helped transform London’s air even before the coronavirus lockdown.

 

City Hall admits there is there is still a long way to go, though, with tens of thousands of Londoners still living in areas with illegally polluted air and 99 per cent of the UK capital still exceeds the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) recommended limits.

 

Main air pollutants

 

There are two main air pollutants of concern in London, based on their impact on human health: nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulate matter (PM2.5). Poor air quality stunts the growth of children’s lungs and worsens chronic illness, such as asthma, lung and heart disease.

 

The report – which includes new data from the Environmental Research Group now at Imperial College London – reveals that the number of state primary and secondary schools located in areas exceeding legal pollution limits (NO2) has fallen from 455 in 2016 to only 14 in 2019, a huge reduction of 97 per cent.

 

It also reveals a 94 per cent reduction in the number of Londoners living in areas exceeding legal limits for nitrogen dioxide (NO2).

 

There is still much more work to do before London meets legal pollution limits and Londoners breathe clean air. Research shows that those exposed to the worst air pollution are more likely to be deprived Londoners and from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities. There is also emerging evidence linking air pollution with an increased vulnerability to the most severe impacts of Covid-19.

 

Almost a quarter (24 per cent) of roads in inner London still exceed the legal limits for NO2. For dangerous particles (PM2.5), the challenge is greater still with only one per cent of London meeting WHO recommended limits. This underlines the need to expand the ultra low emission zone (Ulez) to the North and South Circular roads in 2021 as 3.8 million people live within the expanded Ulez zone.

 

The success of the existing central London Ulez and other action taken by the mayor gives confidence that expansion of the Ulez will help deliver wider benefits for London, including saving the NHS around £5bn and preventing more than one million hospital admissions over the next 30 years.

“However, air pollution remains a major public health challenge and it’s time for government to step up, set ambitious national targets and provide the powers and funding we need to consign air pollution to the history books”

The fact that 99 per cent of London does not meet WHO recommended limits adds to the growing evidence and cross-party consensus that these limits should be included in the Environment Bill as a legally binding target to be met by 2030.

 

“I was elected on a mandate to deliver hard-hitting measures to tackle our toxic air crisis. Today’s report confirms the transformative impact that my policies have had in just four years. I’m pleased that Londoners are breathing cleaner air, that we’re saving the NHS billions of pounds and preventing over a million hospital admissions,” said mayor of London, Sadiq Khan.

 

He continued: “However, air pollution remains a major public health challenge and it’s time for government to step up, set ambitious national targets and provide the powers and funding we need to consign air pollution to the history books. We can’t sleep walk from the health crisis of Covid back into complacency over the major impact of toxic air on everyone’s health.”

 

Dr Gary Fuller, senior lecturer in air pollution measurement at Imperial College London, said breathing bad air has had an intolerable impact on Londoners’ health for far too long. “In our operations centre we have been measuring London’s air pollution for nearly 30 years. During this time we’ve seen deteriorations followed by a long period when some places showed slow improvement, and others slowly worsened. It felt like we were at a standstill.

 

He added: “But, the changes in nitrogen dioxide in central London and along main bus routes before Covid were some of the fastest that we’ve ever measured. Starting around 2016, London’s air pollution underwent a dramatic change and this time it was change for the better. These successes show that our city’s air pollution is not an intractable problem and further action can bring even greater results.”

 

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