Time for us all to act against London’s invisible killer

CROYDON COMMENTARY: Thousands of Londoners die each year because of an environmental issue which our MPs, councillors and London Mayor seem unwilling to do anything about. CONNIE MINTON says it is long overdue that we demanded action over this public health scandal

Nearly 9,500 people in London die every year due to contaminated drinking water.

Do I have your attention now?

Shape of things to come: the plans for Westfield could make queuing in the underpass routine

Choking the town centre: there’s more traffic heading for central Croydon, where air pollution levels are often dangerously high

That opening statement is, of course, untrue. The truth is, cryptosporidium infected 231 people in Wales in 2005 and the water company faced immediate fines and restrictions and every trace of the bug was removed before it was deemed safe for human consumption. We drink on average 2 to 3 litres of water every day. Ever since John Snow traced the 1854 cholera outbreak to a water pump in Broad Street and contributed to the idea of environmental impact on the health of the public, we recognise that clean drinking water is a fundamental public health issue.

Yet 9,500 people in London do die every year because of an environmental impact upon their health. Not because of the water they drink, but because of the air that they breathe.26

Healthy human lungs breathe in 10,000 litres of air every day. The effects of air pollution on human health are far-reaching. The harmful effects of air pollution to human health have been demonstrated widely, ranging from cancer, lung and heart disease to diabetes and dementia in old age.

Children are the real losers in this: their lungs are still developing and are more prone to damage when exposed to polluted air. They are shorter than adults and therefore closer to exhaust fumes expelled from vehicles. And they have higher respiratory and metabolic rates than adults.

Longer exposure to damaging pollution means they are more likely to suffer from disease and so suffer reduced life expectancy. Even small quantities, if breathed by developing children, can lead to a marked reduction in life expectancy in the long term.2  

Air pollution is a direct cause of childhood asthma exacerbations and bronchitis in children 2,3, 4,5, 6, 7, 8, 9  and babies13 and has been shown to  stunt their lung growth. 10,11

It is linked to growth retardation, pre-term births and low birth weight in babies.14 15 16 17 18

Particular matter is found in the blood stream of unborn babies and heavy metals and persistent organic pollutants significantly affect their cognitive and neurological development in children, leading to behavioural deficits and learning impairment. 19,20

Evidence shows that reduction of air pollutants leads to a decrease in hospital admissions for respiratory complaints and an improvement in lung function growth rates in children.2

Vehicle exhaust contributes a large proportion to air pollution and is the easiest modifiable source of air pollution.

So are we doing anything about this? Quite the opposite.

Could this be a regular sight as Croydon children make their way to the Purley Way Academy?

Could this be common as Croydon children make their way to school?

Traffic increased by 70per cent between 1970 and 2004 and is likely to increase further.

Particle pollution is highest inside vehicles1 and children spend an increasing amount of time inside cars, often when being driven to or from school. The overall proportion of car journeys has increased over time: 50 per cent of children are being driven to school nationally, compared with 40 per cent eight years ago, exposing children and adults to concentrated harmful pollutants.

Overall the number of trips made by cars has also increased. And in Croydon, that could increase yet further: in all the plans for the regeneration of the town centre around the Westfield and Hammerson shopping mall, there has not been a single proposal, from the developers, the council or Transport for London which could help to reduce private car use. Indeed, the £1.4 billion development appears to depend on increased car use.

There are simple things we can do ourselves to limit some of the damage, such as turning off the car engine if stationary for more than 60 seconds: pollution is much higher when cars are idling. We can also walk more, cycle or use public transport when possible. Using online grocery deliveries, to replace our individual trip to the shops, also reduces pollution.

However, large-scale changes are needed to address increasingly toxic air.

As the Beddington incinerator is built and construction begins in the next year on the  Fairfield Halls and the Westfield/Hammerson development, there is going to be an increase in the number of diesel-fuelled HGVs trucking backwards and forwards around the whole of the borough, and not just the town centre.

It seems a good time to demand action on air pollution.

It is time that we demand clean air in the same way that we expect to be supplied with clean water.

How can you do that?

  • Write to Stuart Collins, Croydon Council’s cabinet member for a “cleaner, greener” borough, who also happens to be the chair of the South London Waste Partnership, who have commissioned the Beddington incinerator: stuart.collins@croydonlabour.org.uk
  • Write to the Mayor of London, who is forming his strategy on transport in the capital: mayor@london.gov.uk
  • And write to your MP to see what he plans on doing on air pollution: chris.philp.mp@parliament.uk (if you live in Croydon South), gavin.barwell.mp@parliament.uk (Croydon Central) or steve.reed.mp@parliament.uk (Croydon North) – and please do let Inside Croydon know whether you get a reply, and what your elected representative has to say (the website’s email address is at the bottom of this article).


1 http://road.cc/content/news/129814-testing-mps-reveals-worst-air-pollution-inside-cars accessed 1/3/16
2 Brunekreef B (1997) Air pollution and life expectancy: is there a relation? Occup Environ Med 54(11):781
3 Brauer M et al. (2007). Air pollution and development of asthma, allergy and infections in a birth cohort. European Respiratory Journal, 29(5):879–888.
4 Gehring U et al. (2010). Traffic-related air pollution and the development of asthma and allergies during the first 8 years of life. American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, 181(6):596–603.
5 MacIntyre EA et al. (2011). Residential air pollution and otitis media during the first two years of life. Epidemiology, 22(1):81–89.
6 Morgenstern V et al. (2007). Respiratory health and individual estimated exposure to traffic-related air pollutants in a cohort of young children. Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 64(1):8–16.
7 Karr CJ et al. (2007). Effects of subchronic and chronic exposure to ambient air pollutants on infant bronchiolitis. American Journal of Epidemiology, 165(5):553–560.
8 Karr CJ et al. (2009a). Infant exposure to fine particulate matter and traffic and risk of hospitalization for RSV bronchiolitis in a region with lower ambient air pollution. Environmental Research, 109(3):321–327.
9 Karr CJ et al. (2009b). Influence of ambient air pollutant sources on clinical encounters for infant bronchiolitis. American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, 180(10):995–1001
10 Eenhuizen E et al. (2012). Traffic related air pollution is related to interrupter resistance in four-year old children. European Respiratory Journal (doi: 10.1183/09031936.00020812; http://erj.ersjournals.com/content/early/2012/10/25/09031936.00020812.abstract, accessed 9 May 2013).
11 Götschi T et al. (2008). Long-term effects of ambient air pollution on lung function: a review. Epidemiology, 19(5):690–701.
12 Mudway I et al http://www.londonair.org.uk/london/asp/LAQNSeminar/pdf/jan2008/Impact_Of_Air_Quality_On_Health_Ian_S_Mudway_KCL.pdf
13 Heroux ME et al. Quantifying the health impacts of ambient air pollutants: recommendations of a WHO/Europe project. International Journal of Public Health July 2015, Volume 60, Issue 5, pp 619-627
14 Pedersen M et al. Ambient air pollution and low birthweight: a European cohort study (ESCAPE). Lancet Respir Med. 2013 Nov;1(9):695-704. doi: 10.1016/S2213-2600(13)70192-9. Epub 2013 Oct 15)
15 Shah PS, Balkhair T (2011). Air pollution and birth outcomes: a systematic review. Environment International, 37(2):498–516.
16 Parker JD et al. (2011). The International Collaboration on Air Pollution and Pregnancy Outcomes: initial results. Environmental Health Perspectives, 119(7):1023–1028.
17 Proietti E et al. (2013). Air pollution during pregnancy and neonatal outcome: a review. Journal of Aerosol Medicine and Pulmonary Drug Delivery, 26(1):9–23.
18 Ritz B, Wilhelm M (2008). Ambient air pollution and adverse birth outcomes: methodologic issues in an emerging field. Basic & Clinical Pharmacology & Toxicology, 102(2):182–190.
19 Volk HE, Lurmann F, Penfold B, Hertz-Picciotto I, McConnell R. Traffic-related air pollution, particulate matter, and autism. JAMA Psychiatry. 2013 Jan;70(1):71-7. doi: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2013.266.
20 Peterson BS et al. Effects of prenatal exposure to air pollutants on the development of brain white matter, cognition and behaviour in later childhood. JAMA Psychiatry. 2015 Jun 1;72(6):531-40. doi: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2015.57
21 (Cancer Research UK, accessed on 1/3/16 http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/causes-of-cancer/air-pollution-radon-and-cancer/how-air-pollution-can-cause-cancer)
22 Rückerl R et al. (2011). Health effects of particulate air pollution: a review of epidemiological evidence. Inhalation Toxicology, 23(10):555–592.
23 Brook RD et al. (2008). The relationship between diabetes mellitus and traffic-related air pollution. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 50(1):32–38.
24 Krämer U et al. (2010). Traffic-related air pollution and incident type 2 diabetes: results from the SALIA cohort study. Environmental Health Perspectives, 118(9):1273–1279.
25 Andersen et al., REVIHAAP Project: Technical Report Page 9
26 https://www.kcl.ac.uk/lsm/research/divisions/aes/research/ERG/research-projects/HIAinLondonKingsReport14072015final.pdf
  • Dr Connie Minton is a Purley resident and health service professional

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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1 Response to Time for us all to act against London’s invisible killer

  1. Don’t take air pollution seriously?
    Why would you…governments wedded to the motor industry and diesesl especially have hidden the problem from you quite deliberately in different ways.

    1.For years the “independent” medical committee COMEAP minimised the effects (until a recent change of chairman)

    2.DEFRA,the EA and the MET office played around with monitors to suit themselves and did not issue the HEALTH WARNINGS THEY SHOULD HAVE,when pollution levels were lethal.

    3.Local authorities and central government each avoided responsibility by giving it to each other whenever questioned…a sick sort of musical chairs..Air monitoring was turned into a lottery,with Croydon a big loser.

    4.Europe was used by Dave and Angela as a diversion.Good news rhetoric simply camouflaged the secret deals that diluted and delayed change unacceptably.BMW AND FORD AND NISSAN are all very powerful.

    5.Boris just lied,invented nonsensical greenwash (trees,paint,new buses worse than the old ones) and put back clean air deadlines ever further.

    6.The EU health limits are themselves a dilution of the proper WHO limits…so reaching them is no success at all..They MASSIVELY undercount exposures to particulates and Ozone,both very dangerous.

    7.While all this was going on disel manufacturers were just cheating….big time…in collusion with government testers.Their “improved” figures were fed into the computer models that said it was all getting better.At one stage directly contradicting observed and independently measured numbers.

    The only sense coming to the public was from annual LAQN meetings hosted By King’s college,inviting experts from around Europe and our own Uni’s.They started in about 2008.
    Dr Gary Fuller (from Sutton of all places)was there at the beginning,and here is what he thinks of the current situation:

    London has “a long way to go” before it is likely to meet EU legal limits on air pollution emissions, according to a leading environmental researcher.
    The comments came from Timothy Baker, principal air quality analyst and Dr Gary Fuller, senior lecturer in air quality measurement at King’s College London, speaking at the annual London Air Quality Network (LAQN) Conference hosted by the University in London today (21 June).

    Despite the warning Mr Baker said some progress has been made in reducing emissions in the capital in recent years.
    He said: “Over the last 10 years we have had success in dealing with petrol cars and certain pollutants such as PM10, PM2.5 and NOx are on the decrease in some areas,
    “However, the capital has a long way to go in tackling air pollution. Ozone is going to become an increasing problem for London in the years ahead.”
    Also addressing delegates, Dr Fuller said that on current trends it MAY TAKE ‘SOME TIME’ for the capital to comply with legal limits on air pollution.
    Dr Fuller said this presented an interesting dilemma for policy makers in the decades ahead. He added that local and national government may have to “ramp up” policy in order to bring air pollution under control.
    He said: “In certain areas it may take 10 years to comply with the legal limits for air pollutions, others 15 years and in the worst performing areas maybe as long as 28 years if past performance is anything to go by. However, you have to be very careful when referring to past performance to predict the future.
    “In London we have seen a fall in vehicle use in almost all areas. It goes without saying that if we reduce the number of cars on the road – we will reduce the harmful pollutants being emitted.
    “For example we have seen with selective catalytic reduction systems a difference on quite roads, while pollution on some fast paced roads has risen. But I have hopes for Euro 6 buses, which we know has a huge impact on emissions.”

    Inside Croydon recently asked readers to measure pollution for themselves.I know that you may feel “on the fringes of London”.But Islington and Putney,notably,have done independent leasuring,found shocking figures and run successful campaigns to alter local authority policy.Croydon Council is an unbelievable dinosaur,wedded to the car and careless of the health of its population…you will need all the luck in the world.

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