All 50 of Britain’s worst air pollution blackspots are in London, reports the London Evening Standard. Each has at least double the EU limit for nitrogen dioxide (NO2), which is generated by emissions from diesel vehicles and linked to asthma and other respiratory problems.
According to data obtained under Freedom of Information, the most polluted street is Marylebone Road, followed by Park Lane, Knightsbridge, the Hammersmith Flyover and the East Ham and Barking Bypass.
While the European Union sets a limit of 40 micrograms of NO2 per cubic metre on average per year, the junction between Marylebone Road and Glentworth Street showed 132 micrograms and all 50 pollution blackspots exceeded 80 micrograms.
Last year, Oxford Street was found to have a peak level of nitrogen dioxide of 463 micrograms and an average of 135. David Carslaw, an emissions researcher at King’s College London, remarked that this was to his knowledge the highest in the world in terms of both hourly and annual mean.
Shadow environment secretary Maria Eagle said: “Air pollution is killing 29,000 people a year, and London’s fifty dirtiest roads all exceed legal limits.”
A spokesperson for the Mayor said pollution was falling, adding: “The Mayor is leading the most ambitious and comprehensive package of measures in the world to improve London’s air quality.” A spokesperson for Defra also said that air quality had improved significantly in recent decades.
Governments of EU member states were required to reduce air pollution to ‘safe levels’ by 2010, with some countries granted a five-year extension to 2015 if they could show they could comply by then. However, the UK is unlikely to meet its target for reduction of emissions from diesels for another decade and faces fines of some £300 million a year from the European Commission as a result.
However, the level of air pollution in London could actually be even worse than these latest findings indicate. Last year we reported how the capital’s worst air quality was not actually found on the pavements where pollution monitors are positioned, but inside vehicles.
Researchers at King’s College London asked five MPs from the Government's Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) to carry devices that measured airborne pollution. Walking around Whitehall and Oxford Street, they inhaled 6-7 million carbon particles per breath. Inside taxis, they were found to have inhaled up to 50 million particles per breath.
Green Party Leader Natalie Bennett told Bloomberg last year: “Fifty-six percent of journeys we make in Britain are less than 5 miles. If you turn a significant percentage of those into walking and cycling journeys, then you’ve made huge progress.”
Nor should air pollution dissuade you from riding. When levels reached the top of Defra's ten-point scale in some parts of south-east England last year, Dr Paul Cosford, director for health protection at Public Health England, described the situation as being a reminder to do something that is both good for the environment and also good for our health – “let’s walk, let’s cycle, let’s do all the things that are of benefit to us.”