Brixton Road in London has once again been dubbed ‘the filthiest street in the UK’.
Air pollution limits for the whole year have been reached within a month in Brixton Road, figures released today show.
Levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) have exceeded average hourly limits 18 times at the pollution hotspot, the maximum allowed under European Union air quality rules.
It has taken the capital longer to reach the air pollution limit this year than in 2017, when legal levels were breached less than a week into the new year.
Brixton Road was also responsible on that occasion, just five days into the year.
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Legal air pollution limits for the whole year have been reached within a month in London, figures show. Levels of toxic nitrogen dioxide has exceeded average hourly limits in Brixton Road (pictured) 18 times so far this year
Data from London Air Quality Network at King’s College London show that Brixton Road in Lambeth was the first location in the UK to exceed annual NO2 limits on January 31.
The data also show decreases in nitrogen dioxide concentrations along Putney High Street, Brixton Road and Oxford Street over the last two years.
This is probably due to better real-world emissions performance of the latest heavy goods vehicles and upgrades to London’s bus fleet, experts say.
Putney High Street and Brixton Road both became ‘low emissions bus zones’ in 2017.
Annual averages of nitrogen dioxide for both roads are well above legal limits, however.
Since 2004, the UK’s annual limit has been breached within the first week of each year, but this year’s breach date marks an important departure from this trend.
Gary Fuller, from the environmental research group at King’s College London, said: ‘Since 2010, nitrogen dioxide alongside most of London’s roads has started to improve and it is good news to see that this trend is continuing at some of London’s most polluted locations.
‘However, while press and public attention will focus on today’s measurements at Brixton Road, it is important to note that the majority of main roads in London regularly breach legal values for nitrogen dioxide.’
Environmental groups have called for the Government to take urgent steps to tackle illegally dirty air.
That includes creating and funding clean air zones in pollution hotspots across the UK where 85 per cent of areas still break rules which should have been achieved in 2010.
Government estimates suggest compliance for levels of nitrogen dioxide, much of which comes from road transport, particularly diesel, will not be met until 2026.
While campaigners welcomed action by London Mayor Sadiq Khan to tackle pollution, they warned the relative delay in reaching the limit this year could be down to weather conditions dispersing the dirty air.
Oliver Hayes, from Friends of the Earth, said: ‘The frequency and severity of these pollution spikes shows we’ve still got a long way to go in cleaning up our air, despite some good initiatives by the Mayor.’
He said central government action was also critical.
‘A decent scrappage scheme to compensate diesel drivers must go hand in hand with a network of genuinely effective clean air zones across the country,’ he added.
Air pollution is linked to the early deaths of about 40,000 people a year in the UK and causes problems such as heart and lung diseases and asthma.
HOW MUCH NO2 IS SAFE?
Nitrogen dioxide comes from vehicles, power plants, industrial emissions and off-road sources such as construction, lawn and gardening equipment.
All of these sources burn fossil fuels.
The US Environmental Protection Agency has issued guidance for safe levels of inhalation of Nitrogen Dioxide, measured in parts per billion breathed over the course of an hour.
Safe to moderate levels range from zero to 100 parts per billion per hour.
|Air Quality Index (ppb)||Likely impact|
|Good (0-50)||No health impacts are expected when air quality is in this range|
|Moderate (51-100)||Individuals who are unusually sensitive to nitrogen dioxide should consider limiting prolonged outdoor exertion|
|Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups (101-150)||People with lung diseases, such as asthma, as well as children and older adults, should limit prolonged outdoor exertion|
|Unhealthy (151-200)||Sensitive groups should avoid outdoor exertion and everyone else should limit prolonged exertion|
|Very Unhealthy (201-300)||Sensitive groups should avoid outdoor exertion and everyone else should limit theirs|
Scientific evidence links short-term NO2 exposures, ranging from 30 minutes to 24 hours, with adverse respiratory effects including airway inflammation in healthy people and increased respiratory symptoms in people with asthma.
Studies also show a connection between short-term exposure and increased emergency room visits and hospital admissions for respiratory illnesses.
Individuals who spend time on or near major roads can experience NO2 exposures considerably higher than occur away from roads.
These exposures are of particular concern for sensitive groups, such as people with lung disease including asthma, children and older adults.
Mel Evans, clean air campaigner at Greenpeace, said: ‘This is now an annual spectacle highlighting the Government’s abject failure to tackle the toxic air cloaking our towns and cities.
‘The Government could make a real difference very quickly by replicating London’s evidence-led approach across the country, and yet it still advocates clean air zones only as a last resort.’
Ms Evans called for funding for local authorities to put clean air zones into place now, and a planned Government phase-out for conventional diesel and petrol cars should be brought forward from 2040 to 2030.
It has taken the capital longer to reach the air pollution limit this year than last year when legal levels were breached less than a week into the new year. Environmental groups have called for the Government to take urgent steps to tackle illegally dirty air
It comes as ministers, including from the UK, were called to Brussels to discuss the ongoing failure by a number of EU countries to meet legal targets to cut air pollution and action being taken to reduce the problem.
Following the meeting EU Commissioner Karmenu Vella said ministers had ‘some positive suggestions’ but they were not substantial enough and limits could be exceeded ‘even well beyond 2020’.
Countries including the UK face legal action by the EU if urgent measures are not introduced to tackle the problem.
Ugo Taddei, lawyer for legal charity ClientEarth which last week took the Government to court for the third time over its air pollution strategy, said: ‘The Commission should wait no longer and take immediately action in court, rather than having more meetings.
‘People in the UK have waited long enough to breathe clean air.