London Fails EU Annual Pollution Limits Eight Days Into 2016

Warnings Are Given On Air Pollution Levels Across The UK

Nineteen times this year, the concentration of nitrogen dioxide has exceeded the EU limit of 200 micrograms per cubic meter as an hourly mean.

Photographer: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
  • Putney High Street exceeds nitrogen dioxide limits 19 times
  • London has been in breach of EU air quality rules since 2010

London failed annual European Union limits on air pollution just eight days into 2016, data from the capital’s main air quality monitor show.

Nineteen times this year, the concentration of nitrogen dioxide on Putney High Street in Wandsworth, west London, has exceeded the EU limit of 200 micrograms per cubic meter as an hourly mean, according to provisional data on King’s College London’s Air Quality Network website. That compares with an annual limit of 18 “exceedances” set by the EU.

London has breached EU rules on on nitrogen dioxide pollution every year since 2010, posing a health risk to the city’s more than 8.5 million inhabitants. It puts the U.K. at risk of incurring hundreds of millions of pounds in annual European Union fines.

The government’s “failure to deal with illegal levels of air pollution, which causes thousands of early deaths in London every year, is a scandal,” Alan Andrews, a lawyer for ClientEarth, which has taken U.K. authorities to court over air quality standards, said in a statement.

London Mayor Boris Johnson’s office said last year that NO2 and particulate pollution killed 9,500 people in the capital in 2010. The pollutants come from diesel engines among other sources. The rise in popularity of diesel vehicles since the turn of the century has thwarted efforts in London and other European cities to clean up their air.

Dirty Buses

A 10 million-pound ($15 million) bus retrofit program has already led to a “sustained reduction in NO2 concentrations on Putney High Street,” Johnson’s office said in a statement.

“The mayor expects that by introducing new zero-emission-capable taxis and the world’s first Ultra Low Emission Zone from 2020, there will be 70 per cent reduction in the number of Wandsworth residents living in areas breaching NO2 limits and significant improvements elsewhere in the capital,” according to the statement.

Source: London Air/King's College London

The Putney monitoring station logged 1,329 exceedances last year, down from
1,537 in 2014. The peak for air quality breaching the threshold was in 2011, when it did so 2,768 times.

Britain was forced in November 2014 by the EU’s top court to speed up efforts to rein in air pollution, following legal action by ClientEarth. The U.K. in December published revised plans to improve air quality, including a program to ensure the capital meets EU standards by 2025. While that’s an improvement on the previous forecast that the rules wouldn’t be met until after 2030, ClientEarth said it plans to start a new legal action.

“Those plans fall well short, and Londoners face another decade of choking on dangerously polluted air if ministers refuse to take the bold steps needed to solve this deadly problem,” Andrews said. “In the coming months, we will take the government back to court.”

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