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Call for emergency London air pollution restrictions

Curbs on diesel vehicles needed say campaigners amid concerns of a "very high" 10/10 pollution spike due to last all week in the capital...

London needs to implement emergency restrictions on diesel vehicles, say campaigners, as the capital suffers a “very high” 10/10 particle pollution episode, which could last all week.

Simon Birkett, founder and director of the campaign organisation Clean Air in London, told diesel engines, which produce 90-95% of the most dangerous particulates and gases, need to be targeted during episodes of high air pollution.

He says people weren't sufficiently warned of the event, where particulates reached the maximum 10/10 score, or encourage people not to drive in the city centre, where vehicle exhaust is compounding a national air pollution spike.

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He told “Diesel vehicles produce 90-95% of the most harmful particles and gases from exhaust and we ought to be targeting those vehicles.

“The mayor was saying that he knew about that – he admitted he knew about the episode and did nothing, so far as I can see.”

Fine particulates (PM2.5 and PM10), which come from combustion engines among other sources, are considered dangerous because they can penetrate the body's cells when breathed in, and aggravate asthma, respiratory symptoms and result in hospital admissions. They also increase the risk of heart and lung disease. The elderly, the very young and those with existing heart or lung conditions are particularly vulnerable. According to the World Health Organisation there is no safe level of exposure.

Birkett says people need to be informed ahead of high pollution episodes so they can take action. 

“First of all tell people what’s happening, second, advise people to check the official health advice, because it does say consider reducing activity if you are someone who is vulnerable - say you have asthma - and they should also have said ‘please don’t drive into the busiest parts of London, particularly if you have a diesel vehicle’.”

However, Birkett adds London should consider going further and using Congestion Charge zone number plate recognition technology to enforce a system similar to those used in other badly polluted cities around the world.

He said: “If it is better organised they would predict the episode and they would say: number plates ending in 1,3,7 today can’t drive into the central congestion area and if they do they will get a £50 fine."

He added diesel vehicles should be the target as they cause 90-95% of the exhaust problem.

London has the highest NO2 levels of any city in Europe and it is estimated 10,000 people die each year prematurely because of poor air quality.

This is what London looked like yesterday morning:

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