Noticed the Smog Lately? Why London is Struggling to Clean Up its Air!


What is Air Pollution & What are its Causes?

Air pollution refers to the substances in the air that harm human health, welfare, plant or animal life. Below is a list of the types of chemicals that are being emitted into the air:

  • Sulphur dioxide (SO2)
  • Nitrogen dioxide (NO2)
  • Oxides of nitrogen (NOX)
  • Particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5)
  • Lead
  • Benzene
  • Carbon monoxide (CO)
  • Benzo(a)pyrene
  • Ozone (O3)

Most pollution in London is caused by road transport construction, industrial activity and heating systems. London suffers from traffic related pollution in a similar way to most UK cities, but the sheer size of the city, along with a dense road network and high buildings, means that central London tends to be one of the most polluted places in the UK. It is currently the main area failing to comply with the legally binding limits set by the EU. Pollution can build up in London when it becomes trapped between buildings, especially during still weather.

Two types of pollution that are deemed to be at levels that are failing to comply the EU’s legally binding limits are nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5). The diagrams below demonstrate the main sources of these two potentially dangerous substances:

Figure 1 - NO2 Diagram

Figure 1. Sources of Nitrogen dioxide in London. Source: Cleanerairforlondon

Figure 2 - P Diagram

Figure 2. Sources of Particulate matter in London. Source: Cleanerairforlondon

While a significant amount of air pollution is generated by activities taking place within the Capital (as seen in Figures 1&2), approximately 40% of air pollution is generated from sources outside of Greater London.

One reason for this are light easterly winds which can bring pollutants from the continent while simultaneously causing locally produced air pollution to linger close to its source. Dust blown up from the Sahara may also be a contributor, according to Defra. Dust is often carried into the oceans to the east and west of Africa, but around three times a year it was carried north by strong winds over the Sahara.

How is this Effecting Londoners Health?

Despite the reductions in the majority of the pollutants listed above, further reductions in levels of particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide are required to protect human health.

Health officials said adults and children with lung problems, such as asthma, and adults with heart problems should cut down on strenuous exercise, particularly outdoors, especially if they experienced any symptoms.

Around one in 50 heart attacks that lead to admissions at London hospitals may be triggered by air pollution, according to a study at St George’s hospital in Tooting. Researchers there compared emergency admissions for heart problems with air pollution the day before. Particulates in the air pollution are thought to cause inflammation that exacerbate underlying disease.


What is being done?

The UK Air Quality Standards Regulations; sets standards for a variety of pollutants that are considered harmful to human health and the environment and are based on EU limit values.

These standards or targets are attempted to be met by the Mayor’s Air Quality Strategy ‘Clearing the air’, details of which include to:

•             Clean up London’s bus fleet;

•             Cap the age of London’s taxis and private hire cars and introduce a diesel vehicle scrappage scheme;

•             Set new and tighter standards for the London Low Emission Zone

•             Introduce the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) by 2020 when almost all the vehicles running during working hours are either zero or low emissions.

•             Encourage people to use electric and other low emission vehicles;

•             Invest record amounts of money in cycling

To reduce emissions from buildings and developments they are:

•             Making 55,000 homes more energy efficient through the RE:NEW programme and 400 public buildings through the RE:FIT programme, saving tonnes of oxides of nitrogen and carbon dioxide

•             Cleaning construction and demolition sites to improve local air pollution

•             Putting air quality at the forefront of planning


What more could be done?

Despite cuts in most pollutants, levels of PM10 and NO2 are still too high in some areas of London. Poor air quality is a long term problem that has not been easy to solve. The wide range of emission sources means that Government action to combat air pollution must be targeted at local, national and international levels.

There are also a number of organisations and charities which have been set up to help monitor air quality, lobby the government to take more action against the sources of pollution, and educating people regarding the importance of maintaining good air quality.


What is Wiles Greenworld doing to Help?

We are a funding air quality sensors through the Change London Air Sensa project (seen in the Youtube video above) to monitor air quality throughout London to promote a transition to a healthy environment for everyone. As an environmental company we have long been aware of London’s failure to meet EU Standards and its slow response to this failure.  We were therefore an early sponsor of Change London’s Air Sensa network which provides air sensors throughout London and makes the data openly available.  This allows evidence based policy making but also evidence based lobbying in the hope that improvements will be made for everyone’s benefit.

We currently used diesel powered vans because there aren’t electric options on the market for vans of the size that we currently operate.

To compensate for this and minimize out emissions our lovely drivers are:

  • Using Stop-start technology in every van.
  • SAFED trained.
  • Distribute the drivers MPG every month to incentivise them to continually reduce it.
  • Carbon footprint and intensity measured and externally validated.
  • Route optimisation and other measures have resulted in an improvement in the carbon intensity of our distribution.



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