Air pollution

I remember hearing about the great smog of London in 1952 and the clean air acts that were supposed to resolve the problem. Luckily I lived far away up north, in Lincoln. Although I remember cycling through thick East-England fogs, scarf over mouth, there was nothing to compare with that polluted London smog that killed thousands.

This was brought to mind by a recent insightful article in The Times by Tom Whipple: Air pollution: Undertakers knew truth about the Great Smog (sorry, it’s behind the Times paywall). As well as outlining the story of the smog and the official prevarication before it was addressed, Whipple takes the story forward through a number of similar problems related to air pollution in the intervening years since then.

The response to the smog was to reduce smoke by mandating smokeless fuels and tall chimneys. But nothing was done about the sulphur, until ‘acid rain’ made the problem unavoidable from the 1970s.

Then, in the 1980s and 1990s it was realised that lead in fuel was reducing the general IQ, so there came lead-free petrol.

Then came global warming and the move towards more diesel cars to reduce C02 emissions. Sadly, the car manufacturers and standards authorities were economical with the actualité of NO2 and other emissions, and gradually another major pollution problem has engulfed our cities. And there is an unexplained spike in occurrences of asthma, alzheimers, cancers,…

So what did we learn over those nearly 70 years since the London smog?

Basically, we need more checks and balances on introducing new technologies, and we need to anticipate the downsides that are inevitably there, with more effective regulation. So we need a U-turn from the current political atmosphere of deregulation.

But don’t hold your breath… Or maybe you should, while waiting to cross the road at a busy junction.

Featured image Nelson’s Column during the great smog 1952,
by N T Stobbs via Wikimedia Commons

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