A dirty grey smear hung above Croydon at lunchtime today, evidencing the health warnings because of particulate pollution issued this morning by DEFRA and the Met Office.
Simon Birkett, the founder of Clean Air London, described the situation as a “Code Red alert for high particle air pollution” in the city today and tomorrow, as winds slow and an area of high pressure sits over the capital.
The gin blue of the sky above the city was because of meteorological conditions which manage to foster the kind of urban smog that is prevalent in cities with high levels of car use, industrial smoke, wood burners and, of course, waste incinerators. The Viridor incinerator at Beddington was busy burning Croydon’s rubbish this afternoon.
Birkett says that there have been 800 deaths attributable to air pollution in England in the first 11 days of 2022 already.
“Londoners will stew in our own juice for days. No burning or unnecessary driving please,” he tweeted this morning, as he appealed to Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, to issue a serious public health warning.
Birkett says that DEFRA – the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – has itself avoided issuing a red air quality warning for 11 years, deterred by the adverse reaction the civil servants attracted when they last warned against dangerous levels of air pollution in 2011. “DEFRA has form,” Birkett said.
DEFRA’s own code says that pollution at levels 7 to 9, “Adults and children with lung problems, and adults with heart problems, should reduce strenuous physical exertion, particularly outdoors, and particularly if they experience symptoms. People with asthma may find they need to use their reliever inhaler more often. Older people should also reduce physical exertion.
“Anyone experiencing discomfort such as sore eyes, cough or sore throat should consider reducing activity, particularly outdoors.”
At level 10, DEFRA advises against all outdoor activity for those with breathing conditions, to avoid the risk of asthma or heart attacks arising from inhaling the deadly air.
Yesterday, Mayor Khan issued a warning of his own, saying that London faces a crisis of “filthy air and gridlocked roads”.
Khan cited a report by traffic information supplier Inrix, which claimed London was the world’s most congested city last year.
Car usage in London is close to being back to pre-pandemic levels.
While motor vehicle use dropped sharply in early 2020, anecdotal reports suggest that more people are returning to using their cars as London emerges from the various covid lockdowns. That’s in part to aid social distancing by avoiding public transport, but there are fears that much-reduced services on trains, buses and Tubes is seeing more private vehicle use.
Bus usage is at 70 per cent and Tube travel at 55 per cent of levels seen before the first lockdown.
“Whilst we have made huge strides in increasing walking and cycling in London throughout the pandemic, car use has remained consistently high,” the Mayor said yesterday.
“If we do not double down on our efforts to deliver a greener, more sustainable future, we will replace one public health crisis with another – caused by filthy air and gridlocked roads.
“The cost to both Londoners and the capital cannot be underestimated, with days wasted stuck in traffic, billions lost to the economy and increased road danger and health impacts.
“Most traffic is caused simply by there being too great a demand for limited street space, meaning the only long-term solution can be to significantly reduce car use in favour of greener means of travel.”
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