Everyone living in London is exposed to 'toxic' air particles, say authorities

Key Points
  • Mayor Sadiq Khan describes research as damning indictment of the toxic air Londoners are forced to breathe
  • 7.9 million Londoners are in areas where WHO guidelines are exceeded by 50 percent or more
Mike Hewitt | Getty Images

All Londoners are living in areas where they are exposed to dangerous toxic air particles, according to a study.

The research, which is based on the updated London Atmospheric Emissions Inventory, shows that every resident in the city lives in an area where the World Health Organization's (WHO) guidelines for toxic PM2.5 particles are exceeded. Staggeringly, it is also claimed that 7.9 million Londoners are in areas where WHO guidelines are exceeded by 50 percent or more.

Particulate matter, or PM, describes the mix of liquid droplets and solid particles in the air, according to the U.K.'s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. PM2.5 refers to what is known as "fine particulate matter."

London authorities said that the main sources of PM2.5 emissions were from construction, wood burning, and brake and tire wear.

"This research is another damning indictment of the toxic air that all Londoners are forced to breathe every day," Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said in a statement. "It's sickening to know that not a single area of London meets World Health Organization health standards, but even worse than that, nearly 95 per cent of the capital is exceeding these guidelines by at least 50 per cent."

Khan said that it was shameful how young people were being exposed to "tiny particles of toxic dust" that were damaging their lungs and shortening life expectancy.

"I understand this is really difficult for Londoners, but that's why I felt it was so important that I made this information public so people really understand the scale of the challenge we face in London," he said.

Wednesday also saw Khan sign London up to the Breathe Life Coalition, which has been organized by the WHO, UN Environment and the Clean Climate and Clean Air Coalition. The Breathe Life Coalition is a campaign looking to mobilize people and cities "to protect our health and planet from the effects of air pollution."

Efforts are being made to tackle London's pollution problems. October 23 will see a new 'T-Charge' introduced to remove older, more polluting vehicles from the streets of central London. The city is also set to be home to what authorities describe as the world's first Ultra Low Emission Zone, subject to consultation.

Responding to the research, Friends of the Earth's air pollution campaigner said the new data was a "wake-up call to politicians and Londoners alike."

"It's a little known fact that a lot of pollution comes from tire and brake-pad wear as well as from vehicle exhausts," Jenny Bates said. "That's why we need fewer vehicles on the roads as well as cleaner vehicles to protect Londoners health."