Posted by: Didapper PJ13 NOV 2012
We are approaching the 60th anniversary of London’s Great Smog. Five days of intense air pollution early in December 1952 killed at least 4,000 Londoners and made 100,000 others ill with respiratory problems.
Those figures are from official sources, but some experts now think that more than 12,000 people may have died and far more than 100,000 were made ill.
The smog was so thick that people found themselves lost in streets they used every day. The murk even invaded buildings so that some theatregoers were unable to see the action on stage.
The main problem was coal smoke generated by domestic fires and industrial processes. But it was not a new problem. As I wrote in a piece published on PJ Online (2 December 2011), the writer and diarist John Evelyn called for action on London’s air pollution 350 years ago. And even then the problem had been slowly growing for at least 400 years.
The public outcry following the Great Smog resulted in the first Clean Air Act in 1956. Local authorities were given powers to control smoke emissions and to declare smoke control areas where it was illegal to burn smoke-producing fuels.
So is London’s air now sweet and clean? Far from it. As the pestilence of coal smoke declined, pollution from vehicle exhausts was rapidly increasing. Traffic is now the greatest source of air pollution in the capital because of the steady growth in the numbers of cars, lorries, vans, buses and taxis clogging the city’s streets.
Recent initiatives such as the Low Emission Zone scheme, which deters the most polluting vehicles from entering London, have had a piddling effect.
In 2010 the mayor of London commissioned a study on the health effects of long-term exposure to air pollution in the city. The authors concluded that London’s air pollution annually results in more than 4,000 deaths — a figure that eerily chimes with the official death toll of the Great Smog six decades ago.