Shocking new figures released following a Parliamentary Question by London mayoral candidate Sadiq Khan have laid bare the full-extent of London’s air quality problem.
The latest data obtained by the Labour MP and leading London mayoral contender reveal that the capital has routinely breached EU limits on air pollution levels over the course of almost half a decade.
The most up-to-date stats disclosed to the former transport minister by the Government cover 2010 to 2013 and show London’s boroughs exceeding targets on key air quality measures, including levels of nitrogen dioxide and ultrafine particulates that are known to be particularly hazardous to human health.
They also display the capital’s abject failure to get to grips with its long-term ozone objective, with not a single one of London’s 32 boroughs meeting its targets over the four-year period.
Meanwhile, efforts to deal with the city’s high levels of nitrogen dioxide appear to be moving at a glacial pace.
From 2010 to 2011, all of London’s boroughs were exceeding their NO2 limits, while only one – Sutton – managed to meet its target in 2012.
A year later the picture was almost equally as bleak, with Sutton and Bromley the only two boroughs in 2013 that managed to keep their nitrogen dioxide levels within the EU's emissions ceiling.
At the same time, progress on reducing the number of harmful particulates in London’s air has been patchy, according to the DEFRA figures.
While there have been some improvements, especially in terms of bringing down the number of PM10 particles, in 2013 – the last year which data is currently available for – there were still seven boroughs breaching their targets on the smaller PM2.5 particles.
The boroughs in violation of the limits were Hammersmith and Fulham, Kensington and Chelsea, Westminster, Ealing, Tower Hamlets, Camden and Brent.
The campaign group Clean Air in London has estimated that 7,500 people a year die early in the capital due to NO2 and particulate pollution, and that around 55,000 are dying prematurely across the UK.
Ozone gases and particulates are common triggers of asthma attacks, with Asthma UK reporting that two thirds of asthma sufferers saying that air pollution worsens their symptoms and makes attacks more likely.
Tooting MP Sadiq Khan, who is one of the front runners to be selected as the Labour Party's candidate in next year’s London mayoral election, has already said he will make tackling the city’s notorious pollution problem one of his top priorities and is vowing to ‘lead a clean air revolution’.
The plans he has outlined so far include:
extending London’s proposed Ultra Low Emission Zone
moving towards an all-electric bus fleet
an ambitious blueprint for pedestrianising Oxford Street, which would see the capital’s flagship shopping strip transformed into a one and a half mile tree-lined public space
action to make London's streets safer for cycling.
Reacting to the latest data, Sadiq Khan said: “These figures paint a dismal picture of London's long-term efforts to tackle air pollution and underline the need for a much bolder and more radical approach.
"When it comes to reducing certain pollutants, it's clear that any progress we have seen has been lacklustre at best, and in some cases simply non-existent.
"This is a public health issue. When doctors advise people not to go running in London on certain days, and children’s lungs are underdeveloped, we can’t let this carry on. When the lives of asthma sufferers are put at risk because of the greater risk of potentially fatal attacks caused by air pollution, we cannot fail to act. Meaningful action is desperately needed if we want our city to be a healthy and pleasant place to live.
"If I was in City Hall, cleaning up London's air would be at the top of my agenda, rather than being relegated to a mere afterthought."