Broader positive data behind the pollution near primary schools row

aerial river dawn

The revelation that a quarter of London’s primary schools are in areas that had dangerous levels of nitrogen dioxide in 2010 is a deeply worrying statistic and led to accusations from the newly elected mayor, Sadiq Khan, that his predecessor, Boris Johnson, had buried a 2013 report.

It was commissioned by the Greater London Authority and its findings make alarming reading, especially for those living and working in inner London. More than 2.2 million people were exposed to level of NO₂ above the EU safe limit in 2010 and this included 137,000 children in 433 primary schools.

But the report also contained some surprisingly positive projections on the speed at which the exposure levels will fall by 2020. The projections were based on emissions data from the GLA and pollution mapping data from the Environmental Research Group at King’s College.  The report concluded that by the end of 2015 the population exposed to harmful levels of NO₂ will have fallen to just over a million and will drop significantly further by 2020 with air quality objectives achieved in outer London, at least.

Pollution population no2-2

NO₂ is particularly harmful to children and the report identified 433 schools, mostly in central London, where levels were unsafe in 2010 – the red dots on the map below.

Screen Shot 2016-05-17 at 19.56.37-2

From Analysing Air Pollution Exposure in London

The situation is considerably better now, if the projections made by the researchers are correct. In 2010, 137,000 children aged 4-11 were affected but that should now be below 50,000. By 2020 the situation will improve further.

NO2 near primaries-2

The researchers also looked at pollution compared to deprivation levels, giving the report added political potency. They found that most of the schools with the highest levels of NO₂ were in districts with the highest levels of deprivation.

This is not due to any causal link between deprivation and pollution but due to the location of the schools near to very busy main roads. These areas may be home to more deprived families because property and rental costs are lower close to busy highways.

Many of the worst affected schools are in areas where poor people are resident but they’re also very close to where bankers and brokers work or where theatre-goers flock each evening – this is a central London problem. High nitrogen dioxide levels are bad for everyone, and as previously reported by Urbs, responsible for thousands of deaths.

There’s a lot of politics in this row over whether the bad news in the report was suppressed.  The new mayor is seeking to show himself as the new broom.  He has hit the ground running on the environment saying that he’ll extend the Ultra Low Emission Zone beyond the Congestion Charge area, as far as the North and South Circular roads, and he’ll introduce it early, in 2017.  Drivers of polluting vehicles will face an extra charge for entering the zone.

As the ‘buried’ report shows, London has a big pollution problem but is heading in the right direction. The task for the mayor will be balancing that progress with the economic growth of the capital as more jobs and people add to the environmental challenge.

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See also

Don’t just blame drivers for harmful NO2 pollution

Election Issues: Balancing economic success with green ambitions

Nearly 9,500 deaths a year – study reveals impact of air pollution

Tests suggest NO2 pollution levels may be higher at child height

Election Issues: Balancing economic success with green ambitions

urban sunsetWhoever becomes London’s new mayor is going to have economic growth and improvement of the environment at the top of their agenda.  But are these two goals compatible?

In 2011 the Mayor set out a climate change strategy that aimed to reduce CO2 emissions to 60% of what they were in 1990 by 2025[1]. 1990 is an internationally recognised baseline that countries used in signing the Kyoto agreement.

2015 is the first big milestone in the Mayor’s plan. By the end of last year emissions should have been down by 20% on 1990 level.  But the most recent data for greenhouse gases in London shows that the capital is off course to hit this target[2].  In 2013 a reduction of only 11% had been achieved. This is better than the 10% of 2012 but falls short of the 13% achieved in 2011.

A breakdown of this number shows the challenge.  Roughly 40% of CO2 emissions come from homes, 40% from workplaces and 20% from transport.  But a fast-growing population, booming economy and a skyline filled with cranes make all three of these categories difficult. Per capita emissions have fallen by 28% since 1990, but that growing population means the total improvement has been much lower.

Not surprisingly, the growth in population has made domestic emissions the toughest to cut, down just 7% since 1990.

Environment chart 1-2

Despite all this, London has the lowest CO2 emissions per head in the UK.  That’s partly down to the way we live.  An example is London’s fastest growing borough, Tower Hamlets.  Not only has it London’s lowest car ownership level – at just 15 per 100 population compared to 49 in nearby Havering[3].  It also has far more energy efficient homes.  Looking at Domestic Energy Performance Certificates, London has 11% of homes in A or B categories compared to 9% across the UK[4].  Tower Hamlets has 27% of homes in these categories – largely due to a concentration of flats, especially new build.

Environment Chart 2-2

A nice side benefit for Tower Hamlets residents comes with their fuel bills – they have the lowest domestic gas consumption in the capital[5].

Recently, the London environment debate has shifted from CO2 greenhouse gases to the air quality issue of NO2.  This came to a head last year with the VW scandal, where drivers hoping to prevent climate change found themselves creating potentially lethal local health hazards.  A report from King’s College estimated that almost 10,000 Londoners were being killed by air pollution each year; most as a result of NO2 emissions[6].

A further study from Policy Exchange[7] estimated that just under a half of NO2 emissions come from road transport – the rest a mix of air and rail transport with domestic and commercial gas use.  In central London buses emerge as a particular issue, together with the gas used to fuel the city centre’s offices and shops.

In 2013, only two of London’s 32 boroughs (Sutton and Bromley) met the annual mean limit on NO2[8], and it took only the first week of 2016 for Putney High Street and Oxford Street to break their annual maximum limit for the whole year[9].

So what effect does air quality have across the capital?  The Kings College study breaks down its estimate of deaths attributable to air pollution by borough. This shows Barnet, Bromley and Croydon with the greatest impact, all having over 400 deaths per annum.

Environment Chart 3-2

Such statistics place huge pressure upon the Mayor to find ways for Londoners to breathe more easily.  The key responsibility of the Mayor’s role is to make London a better place for everyone to live. He or she has to ensure that businesses thrive so the economy of the city grows and delivers jobs while also improving London’s environment.   Achieving either is a huge task. Achieving both simultaneously will be a monumental challenge for whichever candidate wins office.

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This report was produced in association with London Live’s election special programme London Votes.

Don’t just blame drivers for harmful NO2 pollution

Bishopsgate-2Central London has a particular problem with potentially deadly air pollution caused by nitrogen dioxide, but it is not all the fault of drivers with diesel cars. Buses and buildings are also playing a significant part.

Transport is the largest single factor in the production of harmful NO2 and the finger is often pointed at cars with diesel engines. These type of vehicles make up 50% of all new sales in the UK and the switch away from petrol, encouraged by the Government, has had some benefit for other types of emissions.

But data analysis by the think tank Policy Exchange on the sources of NO2 in London shows that diesel cars are only part of the story and the figures for Central London are different to that for Greater London as a whole.

Nearly every borough is failing to meet the legal limit for levels of NO2. Long term exposure to high levels can lead to respiratory disease and a recent study by Kings College London, reported by Urbs, estimated that it may be killing 5,800 people a year.

Transport is responsible for 45% of NO2 emission across Greater London. Diesel vehicles including cars, taxis, buses and HGVs account for most of this, with 11% attriibuted to diesel cars, the same as HGVs.

NO2 Greater London


The figures for Central London reveal a similar rate of NO2 from transport, but the nature of traffic in the centre of the city means that busess account for 3 times the amount of NO2 produced by diesel cars.

NO2 Central London

The other significantly different factor in Central London is the NO2 emission rate from non-domestic burning of gas, ie powering the offices, shops and businesses. This accounts for a third of NO2 emissions in Central London compared to 8% for Greater London.

The recent Volkswagen emission test scandal has led to renewed concern about the real level of diesel car pollution. But this data shows that while cleaner cars are needed the capital also needs a greener bus service and more energy efficient buidlings to tackle the problem of NO2 more widely.

Up in the Air report, Policy Exchange

See also

Nearly 9,500 deaths a year – study reveals impact of air pollution

Most boroughs fail on legal limit for toxic gas that could harm health

Tests suggest NO2 pollution levels may be higher at child height

Feeling secure? City merely moderate for citizen safety, says study

dreamstime_l_29077431How safe is out city? Only moderately so and a lot riskier than those in East Asia and many European capitals, according to research by the Economist Intelligence Unit.

Tokyo topped its index of 50 global cities measured by 44 data points, while London trailed in at 18th. Of London’s big global city rivals, New York came 10th and Paris ranked lower in 23rd place.

The EIU Safe Cities Index looked at 4 broad categories – digital security, health security, infrastructure safety and personal safety.

London performed best in the personal safety category where it managed 12th place. Personal safety looked at how secure citizens are from theft and violence. It examined police engagement, crime levels and political stability. 4 of the 5 top places went to Asian cities. Stockholm completed the top 5.

All European cities did poorly in digital security though London was the continent’s best performer in 16th place. This category measured the resources dedicated to ensuring that citizens can use the Internet and other digital technologies without fear of privacy violations or identity theft. Asian cities were, once again, the best performers and North American cities also scored well.

Despite the National Health Service London managed only 22nd place when it came to health security. European cities that also have universal health systems generally performed well in this category, which examined life expectancy, ratios of citizens to hospital beds and doctors, and pollution levels. As previously reported, emission levels and deaths attributed to NO2 remain high in London.

The capital’s worst performance was in infrastructure – the safety of the city’s roads and building and its resilience against disaster – where it came half way down the rankings at 25th.  Among the items measured were the frequency of road accidents and pedestrian safety. While accident rates are falling in London, pedestrians remain the most vulnerable, as previously reported by Urbs.

The EIU chose the 50 cities based on regional representation and the availability of data. The list included 7 from North America, 6 from Latin America, 13 European cities, 18 in Asia Pacific and 6 from the Middle East and Africa, though Johannesburg was the sole African city included.

Safe Cities Index 2015
Overall Digital Health Infrastructure Personal
1 Tokyo Tokyo Zurich Zurich Singapore
2 Singapore Singapore New York Melbourne Osaka
3 Osaka New York Brussels Sydney Tokyo
4 Stockholm Hong Kong Frankfurt Amsterdam Stockholm
5 Amsterdam Osaka Paris Tokyo Taipei
London (18) London (16) London (22) London (25) London (12)

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See also

Police say violent crime is up, but it may be the way it’s recorded

Most boroughs fail on legal limit for toxic gas that could harm health

Women in London will live longer than anywhere in the UK

42 pedestrians and cyclists injured each week by hit and run drivers

Tests suggest NO2 pollution levels may be higher at child height

Pollution cars 2Levels of damaging nitrogen dioxide may be higher than official readings show and may be much at much higher levels at child or buggy height, according to a cycling campaign group.

HFcyclists, a campaign group based in Hammersmith and Fulham decided to take their own NO2 readings around the Hammersmith gyratory system and Shepherd’s Bush Green. With the support of the environmental legal group ClientEarth they set up tubes to monitor NO2, which are produced particularly by diesel engines.

Official readings are taken at a height of 3 metres. They placed tubes at different heights at 2 locations. The campaign group found that readings were significantly higher closer to the ground – up to 30% higher at 0.5 metres, the height of a child in a buggy and 25% at 0.8 metres, the height of a pram or a small toddler


Graphic: HFcyclists/ClientEarth

All their readings were in excess of the EU regulatory limit. As reported by Urbs, all but 2 London boroughs are in breach of legal limits and a recent study by Kings College said that NO2 was responsible for 9,500 deaths a year. The same study found that the number NO2 related deaths in Hammersmith and Fulham was one of the lowest in the city.

HFcyclists acknowledge that their modest test over a two-month period earlier this year should be seen as no more than indicative and the proximity of the Hammersmith flyover may have affected the height distribution of NO2. They say that they will continue to monitor to obtain more robust data. But the results raise further concern about the effects of nitrogen dioxide levels in London, particularly for children.

Source data

See also

Nearly 9,500 deaths a year – study reveals impact of air pollution

Most boroughs fail on legal limit for toxic gas that could harm health

Emission targets at risk as growing population hits greener city plan

Nearly 9,500 deaths a year – study reveals impact of air pollution

urban sunsetAir pollution is killing nearly 9,500 Londoners each year, more than twice the number previously thought.

The drastic increase is caused by the inclusion for the first time of numbers killed through long-term exposure to nitrogen dioxide, NO2, a pollutant largely blamed on diesel engines.

Experts from the Environmental Research Group at Kings College developed new methods to quantify the effects of NO2 in the study carried out for the Greater London Authority and Transport for London. It is thought to be the first study to capture NO2 related deaths.

Previous estimates were based on the damage caused by small particles in the air caused by pollution, so called PM2.5. A study in 2008 calculated these caused more than 4,000 deaths a year. The new study revises that figure down to 3,537, but the addition of 5,879 deaths attributed to NO2 has dramatically increased the estimated death rate.

As previously reported by Urbs, all but two London boroughs are in breach of EU regulation on NO2 levels. The outer boroughs of Sutton and Bromley were the only ones meeting legal limits last year. But this study, based on 2010 data, shows that Bromley had one of the highest rates of deaths caused by air pollution. Along with Barnet, it has the equal highest mortality numbers, followed by Croydon. These are 3 of the most populous boroughs in London, and they have the most cars.

As our map below shows, Sutton comes around mid range. The lowest estimated death rates are recorded for Kingston and Hammersmith and Fulham.

Air pollution deaths

The study also found that the combined effects of PM2.5 and NO2 were responsible for nearly 2,500 hospital admissions for respiratory problems and 740 for cardiovascular damage.

See also

Most boroughs fail on legal limit for toxic gas that could harm health

Car ownership reveals a tale of 2 Londons

Heathrow gets the nod to expand, but it’s already Europe’s noisiest airport

Researchers based their findings on pollution levels from 2010 as it is the most recent base year data available from the London Atmospheric Emission Inventory, the system set up to gather air pollution information on the capital.

The GLA says that as the data is 5 years old it does not take into account more recent measures to improve air quality, such as the introduction of more hybrid buses to replace diesel vehicles.

The Mayor, Boris Johnson,  has announced an Ultra Low Emission Zone for 2020 to reduce heavy lorries and coaches in the capital. And in releasing the data he called on the UK Government and the EU to do more, as the study says that half the pollution in London comes from outside, including diesel fumes and industry emissions from continental Europe.

The Mayor also used the opportunity to again voice his opposition to the expansion of Heathrow, as recommended by the Airports Commission.

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Most boroughs fail on legal limit for toxic gas that could harm health

Pollution carsNearly every London borough is failing to meet the legal limit set by the EU for a harmful, air polluting gas that that can be damaging to health.

The Environment Minister Rory Stewart has revealed that only the outer boroughs of Sutton and Bromley have levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) within the regulation limits considered safe for public health.

Exposure to high levels of NO2 can lead to respiratory disease. Road transport is the largest source of NO2 in London, particularly diesel vehicles. While levels fell in the years to 2002 they have remained relatively constant since then, according to the State of the Environment report for London. It says that: “Urban background concentrations of NO2 in inner London, and at roadside locations, have exceeded the annual limit value since 2000. Concentrations close to busy roads can be 2-3 times the limit value”.

The GLA has set up special monitoring at 187 focus sites across the capital where levels of NO2 are not only high but where there is a particular risk to health.

A reduction in car journeys has helped with public transport used for 42% of journey is 2010 compared to 34% in 2000. But the population increase in London has led to increased demand on public transport and diesel-powered buses are among the worse offenders.

See also

Traffic pollution battle stalls

Emission targets at risk as growing population hits greener city plan

The data revealed by the Minister is from 2013 and borough level data for 2014 will be available in September. But the all London average monthly figures for roadside levels of NO2 show the EU limit of for 40 micrograms per cubic metre of air has been exceeded throughout 2014 and 2015..

In his written answer Mr Stewart also reveals that levels of small particle pollution, PM2.5 as it is known, was being met in 26 boroughs but Hammersmith and Fulham, Kensington and Chelsea, Westminster, Ealing, Tower Hamlets, Camden and Brent were all exceeding EU limits. Small particle pollution is considered to be particularly harmful to health.

While the data for London is poor many other major cities are facing similar, if not more severe problems with air quality and harmful pollutants. As previously reported by Urbs, in a comparative study London was not the best but fared better than some cities.

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Traffic pollution battle stalls

Pollution cars copy

The battle with harmful air pollution caused largely by vehicles has stalled.

Data analysis by Urbs of the Daily Air Quality Index collected by the Department of the Environment shows that the rate of small particle pollution in the capital has not seen significant change since 2008.

The index measures the rate of small particles in the air that are largely caused by road transport. It records 10 micrometres particles and smaller ones of 2,5 micrometres that are more harmful to health.

In the period from December 2008 to March this year there was a 15% reduction in the 2.5 micometre particles, but it has gone up slightly in the past 12 months. The rate of the larger particles has remained relatively unchanged with just a 1% reduction.

The air quality index is graded in bands between 1 and 10. The good news for London is that air quality remains in the low risk 1-3 levels. A comparison with other cities commissioned by the GLA in autumn 2014 shows that London has lower levels of traffic pollution than Paris, Barcelona and Los Angele but people could breathe a little more easily at the roadside in Madrid, Berlin and New York.

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International comparison