Just four weeks into the new year, London had already reached its air pollution limit for 2018. This shocking fact would be laughable, if it wasn’t so concerning.
Remarkably, this is actually an improvement from 2017. In previous years, the limit has been reached just 6 days into the new year. The law requires that hourly levels of toxic NO2 must not exceed 200 micrograms per cubic metre (µg/m3) more than 18 times in a whole year.
This improvement is partly due to London’s environmentally conscious Mayor Sadiq Khan, who introduced cleaner buses and charges to deter vehicles from entering London. Looking for a positive, this is the first time in 18 years that the end of January has been reached before hitting the legal air pollution limit.
This is a global problem, with air pollution linked to 1 in 6 deaths. Cities across the world need to wake up to the dangerous levels of pollution and take drastic action.
Air pollution affects your health in numerous ways:
Air pollution affects physical and mental development in children and cognition in adults
Air pollution is linked to type 2 diabetes
Air pollution is also connected to heart disease and stroke
Air pollution can also prevent normal lung development in children and is linked to lung cancer and asthma
So, what can be done to improve city air quality?
City centre vehicle bans
Despite limits imposed by the European Union, cities have obviously been exceeding these limits for many years. Cities are being taken to court by individuals living in the city and environmental organisations alike, so many cities are taking the problem into their own hands. Madrid, Paris and Athens are aiming to ban diesel cars completely by 2025. London is already seeing areas of the city facing a car ban, with huge fines if anyone flouts the rules.
2. Urban nature
Plant covered buildings situated along packed streets can help filter air pollution. Plants convert carbon dioxide into oxygen, they filter particulates out of the air and help to cool down cities.
London has ‘smog-eating’ plant sculptures that are said to combat the city’s air pollution, with each sculpture as effective as 275 trees.
3. Electric revolution
Norway is way ahead of most countries on its love for electric cars, shifting away from fossil-fuel engines. Electric cars and hybrids accounted for over half of all car sales in Norway in 2017. Let’s hope other countries follow their lead – with proper plans in place to invest in ample electric car charge points.
4. Stringent controls
Due to stricter testing coming into place, new diesel trucks emit less pollution-causing nitrogen oxides than passenger cars and this is all due to more stringent testing and controls. The emissions of pollutants from trucks and buses are now measured on the road and it would help in future if this was extended to random assessments of cars on the road.
5. City investment into alternative transport
Investment into public transport services and bicycle lanes goes a long way into encouraging people to use another mode of transport to driving a car. ‘Boris Bikes’ were a huge success in London, where dockless bike sharing is now taking off. In San Francisco, Uber are jumping on the bike sharing bandwagon.
What can you do as an individual?
Install air quality units
Indoor pollution can be just as damaging as outdoor pollution, as the levels are often more concentrated. You can invest in air quality units and bring plants that naturally purify the air into your home.
Use your smartphone to avoid high pollution
CityAir informs you when there is a high level of air pollution and gives you advice on how to reduce your emissions and exposure
To see pollution in the air, both inside and outside check out the CleanSpace Air Pollution app
To plan your activities around levels of air pollution, see Plume Air Report
The European Air Quality Index is an interactive map to look at air quality in real-time across Europe
We are all impacted by high levels of nitrogen dioxide. Health is seriously affected by air pollution and those that are the worst affected are the most vulnerable; namely children. While this is a much needed response, much more needs to be done.
Justin Fox is the author of this post.