London left gasping amid record pollution

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Credits: The Telegraph

London surpassed the annual air pollution limit five days into 2017, according to data from King’s College London’s Air Quality Network, the capital’s main monitoring system.

A site in Brixton Road, South London exceeded hourly limits for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) 24 times so far this year, breaking the European Union’s annual allowance of 18 breaches. The pollutant comes from factories and vehicles, with diesel engines playing the biggest part in the NO2 emission on roads in urban areas.

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London last month was put on a ‘very high’ pollution alert, as the cold and windless air failed to clear the toxic emissions caused by diesel traffic. London mayor Sadiq Khan said that the capital’s ‘filthy air’ is now a ‘health crisis’. He has pledged new measures to tackle the problem, including new low-emission bus routes that will deploy the ‘greenest vehicles’.

Mayor Khan also announced the introduction of a pollution charge for those who own more polluting cars and it is expected to affect up to 10.000 vehicles every week day. Owners of diesel and petrol engines, registered before 2006 will have to pay a £10 fee to drive in central London starting from 23 October.

The Guardian reports that half of Britain’s private cars are diesel. Despite the health warnings, the latest figures show that the total number of diesel vehicles licensed in London grew from 601,456 in 2012 to 774,513 in 2015, a 29 percent increase.

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Infographics: Alina Sirbu

London has encouraged its citizens to use bicycles more but there has been a debate whether bike lanes make congestion and pollution worse. The will end up being pushed into fewer lanes which is increasing the amount of time they stay in stationery. People are also concerned that bicycle commuters will be exposed to harm by being too close to pollutant-emitting vehicles.

Ever since 2010 the UK has been at the leading edge of resistance to laws aimed at suppressing air pollution deaths and violations of the EU’s NO2 limits. Britain has been served with a ‘final warning’ from the European Commission over the exceeding of air pollution restrictions. Amongst London, there are 16 other regions like Birmingham, Leeds or Glasgow who are targeted by the warning because they failed at addressing continuous pollution offences.

Air pollution is responsible for about 40.000 early deaths a year in the UK, with 9.500 happening only in London. This problem is also linked to health effects including asthma, heart and lung diseases, and people living near busy roads are more likely to experience these issues.

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Report: Alina Sirbu

Some cities, including Paris and Mexico City, have banned diesel vehicles altogether and it looks like London needs to up its game and follow this lead.

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