Toxic air in Croydon is in breach of World Health standards

Deadly cloud: a grey smear of pollution hangs over Croydon most days

Levels of toxic nitrogen dioxide in Croydon and 13 other London boroughs have been found to break the UK legal limit and to be in excess of the recommended limit set by WHO, the World Health Organization.

One of the test sites, in Brent, registered levels of NO2 at three times the legal limit.

Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, said the data was “shocking proof” that air quality was a problem “in every single part of the capital”.

The study included results of testing carried out at 1,823 locations across 31 London boroughs throughout 2021.

The only boroughs not to take part in the NO2 study were Harrow and Bexley.

Bexley is one of five Tory-run councils in and around London which are taking legal action in an effort to prevent the expansion of ULEZ, the Ultra Low Emission Zone. Bexley said the cost of testing would be of “very limited use and a poor use of the public purse”. Bexley says it will undertake the tests in… 2024.

Croydon’s Tory Mayor, Jason Perry, has said that he opposes the ULEZ expansion, too, but he declined to commit our cash-strapped council’s cash to the legal challenge.

The London-wide results showed:

  • WHO’s recommended limit of nitrogen dioxide (10 µg/m3) was exceeded at all 1,823 locations tested across 31 boroughs
  • A UK legal limit (40 µg/m3) was exceeded in five or more locations in Croydon and 13 other boroughs, including Greenwich, Lambeth, Merton, Southwark and Wandsworth

According to City Hall, the results show similar average pollution concentration in inner and outer London, supporting the case to expand the Ultra Low Emission Zone.

The scheme, which charges drivers of the most polluting cars £12.50 a day to enter, is to be extended from August from its current South Circular-North Circular limit to cover most of Greater London.

According to Transport for London data, road transport accounts for 44per cent of nitrogen oxide emissions, 31per cent of PM2.5 (particulate matter) emissions and 28per cent of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in London.

TfL says: “The proposed London-wide ULEZ is expected to reduce road transport NOx emissions by 5.4per cent in London. There is expected to be a 1.5per cent reduction in PM2.5 emissions from road transport in London.”

Data from City Hall, reviewed by Imperial College London, shows: “Road transport NOx emissions for all vehicles are expected to reduce by 5.5% (214 tonnes) in the non-Greater London area in 2023 compared to a scenario where there was no ULEZ expansion London-wide.”

WHO maintains that there is no “safe” level of air pollution.

Imperial College research – commissioned by City Hall – says: “In 2019, in Greater London, the equivalent of between 3,600 to 4,100 deaths were estimated to be attributable to human-made PM2.5 and NO2, considering that health effects exist even at very low levels.

“This calculation is for deaths from all causes including respiratory, lung cancer and cardiovascular deaths.”

Responding to the latest findings of NO2 levels across the capital, Mayor Khan said, “This data is yet more shocking proof that London’s air quality has been in serious breach of the recognised global standard – and it’s a problem in every single part of the capital.

“This is why I made the difficult decision to expand the ULEZ London-wide – to help save lives and to give all Londoners the right to breathe cleaner air.”

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9 Responses to Toxic air in Croydon is in breach of World Health standards

  1. Lewis White says:

    Thanks for this article.
    It took about 100 years of Thames pollution before Parliament took action to really take action on a comprehensive sewer system to get the sewage down to beyond Woolwich, and (if not then but a bit later) for a treatment works to be added and Beckton and Crossness.

    It took about 100 years of child labour before sweeps were were no longer allowed to clean chimneys using climbing boys, and in the coal mones, owners were no longere allowed to use children to haul coal underground.

    After perhaps 100 years of coal fires and smogs, in the 1960’s, as older Inside Croydon readers will recall, the Smokeless zones were imposed, and coke replaced coal on open fires.

    Looks like, after 100 or so years of the internal combustion engine, we (and Governemnts) are waking up to the effects of less visible air pollution. 50 years too late, but at least, waking up.

    Government have pledged to ban manufacture of fossil-fuelled cars and vans in the 2030’s. Whether that will really happen is open to some doubt.

    I can’t help but feel that all motorists need to be rationed in some way– on their mileage, with some simple allowances if one is working , retired, etc. Not easy to work out a system that is fair but has real teeth.

    One problem is that companies are allowed to send their staff to ridiculous distances each day to mend boilers, washing machines, etc etc, and deliver things. Like 100 or even 250 miles in a day. While a firm from Essex is travelling to Surrey round the M25 to mend a heating system, one from Surrey will be doing the same on its way to Essex. A maifestation of the Thatcher factor of enterprsie and hard work, even if it kills the planet and the health of the drivers, and the people who live near the motorways.

    Cars give the drivers and their passengers freedom–I like that too, as a driver and pasenger–but it comes with the cost to air quality, and health . The long term effects are now well known.

    That cost also includes the price to the environment, us, and all other creatures great and small, resulting from waste incineration.

    This must be the major challenge of our day. Not forgetting the need to avoid and relieve world famines and making action to reduce the ago-old human habit of making war.

    The problem is that Governments don’t like truth, when it come to anything that will cost the country money, difficult things like pollution. It costs votes.


    • George Wright says:

      You can give people eyes but you can’t make them see. The information is now there but I doubt polluting Perry nor the toxic Tories will relent in their anti ULEZ antics.

      Shockingly we now live in a country where even public protest is muted with demonstrators being arrested before they even take off their coats to reveal symbols of protest and Council workers being arrested for handing out rape alarms for women’s safety.

      We need to somehow get back to being a thinking, caring society

  2. Ian Kierans says:

    Glad that we actually took part and recorded the levels. Results have borne out what we knew for some time.
    Moving to electric vehicles will reduce this considerably at local levels but does require Power plants supplying the power to be more carbon neutral also.

    • miapawz says:

      I doubt that many people can afford 20-40k for an electric vehicle. My family has a small petrol car and we do aproximately 1800 miles a year in it. But we need it as there is no public transport within 3/4 of a mile of our house.
      Unless Khan and TFL increase the amount of public transport all this daft ULEZ does is punish the poor with old vehicles and punishes small businesses with older vehicles. the rich just pay £12.50 a day and carry on .

      • Mr Green says:

        Curious which bit of Croydon you live in where there is no public transport – train, bus or tram? – which 3/4 of a mile?

    • Not so fast.

      The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development tell us that it’s not just what comes out of the exhaust pipe that contributes to a car’s air pollution. It’s what comes from the tyres and brake pads too. As they wear down, they emit microscopic particles, known as PM2.5, which are harmful to human health when we breathe them in.

      The OECD found that heavier long-range electric vehicles emit an estimated 3-8% more PM2.5 than equivalent conventional motor vehicles. Electric cars are typically much heavier than their internal-combustion counterparts, by around 500kg from the battery alone.

      In the Council Air Quality Action Plan 2017-22 introduced by Councillor Stuart King, it was noted then that “Croydon is meeting the current objectives for particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5) but as this pollutant is damaging to health at any level, this remains a pollutant of concern”.

      The government’s Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs recorded that in 2022, PM2.5 levels rose compared to 2021.

      Latest figures from the PM2.5 monitors in Croydon’s Mint Walk and Scarbrook Road show spikes in excess of the World Health Organisation’s daily mean guideline.

      As reported on Inside Croydon last month, Mayor Perry has no plan to improve our borough’s toxic air pollution. The fact that in 2021, 173 people died due to PM2.5 particles doesn’t bother him. Indeed, no Member of either the Cabinet or the Shadow Cabinet has explicit responsibility for air quality.

      On a matter of life and death, our council has just given up.

      • Lewis White says:

        Mint walk and Scarbrook Road?.
        These are among the quietest roads in Croydon. Ok , tyre dust might blow in from the Fairfield roundabout, where there is much squealing of tyres , or blow in from the nearby Flyover, but there is next to no traffic in this area of town other than buses and Deliveroo drivers on bikes.

        One has to ask– what are the monitoring stations on Purley Way, Purley Cross, Roman way, or Fiveways showing, in terms of all these pollutants?. The levels of all car-derived pollutants in these areas must be much higher. Perhaps 10 times higher ??

        Or is the cunning plan not to have monitoring stations in known bad air areas? I would not put that past the pollutant-monitoring authorites, whether Government agencies like the Envronment Agency, or our own council.

        That would be a Nelsonian blind eye, or more accurately, Kafkaesque.

        Could Arfur perhaps let us know?

      • Paul Taylor says:

        This is a relevant point, but isn’t quite correct. Electric vehicles don’t make all local air pollutants magically disappear, but they do help.
        The OECD study that you’re referring to did find that the non-exhaust PM2.5 emissions of long range (300 miles) electric vehicles were 3-8% higher than conventional vehicles, but total PM2.5 emissions were actually lower (something like 1-10% vs petrol and 10-25% vs diesel).
        Shorter range (100 miles) electric vehicles had significantly lower non-exhaust and total PM2.5 emissions than conventional equivalents, and all electric vehicle types had significantly lower non-exhaust and total PM10 emissions.

        • I am grateful to my learned friend.

          The point here is that electric cars, vans and trucks are not the panacea to transport-related air pollution that some think or claim it is.

          There’s also the environmental impact caused in their production, particularly in the sourcing of raw materials for the batteries.

          And while electric vehicles do indeed emit far fewer nasties than do internal combustion engines, under current government transport policy, you’ll still end up in a traffic jam of your own making. That’s the Tory way.

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