A new report commissioned by the Mayor of London’s office predicts that the least advantaged residents of London are likely to reap the most benefits from a new ultra low emissions zone starting in April 2019.
People living in the most deprived areas of London are exposed to about a quarter more nitrogen dioxide pollution on average than those living in the least deprived— this gap is expected to narrow by 71 per cent by 2030 under the ULEZ and accompanying plans, from 7.55 µg/m3 in 2013 to 2.23 µg/m3.
The researchers also predict that, because of these planned measures, only five primary and high schools will be exposed to illegally high nitrogen dioxide pollution levels by 2020, down from 485 of these schools in 2013. By 2025, this figure is expected to be no schools at all.
This would benefit the least advantaged children: a previous study found that around 80 per cent of schools located in the most polluted areas of London were defined as being “deprived”.
“Improving London’s air quality is a social justice issue as well as a public health matter, given it is certain communities which are affected by filthy air the most,” said Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, in a press release.
“It cannot be right that your background and where you live determines the quality of the air you breathe and that is exactly why measures like the Ultra Low Emission Zone are so vital,” he said.
Nitrogen dioxide inflames the lining of the lungs, can reduce immunity to lung infections, triggers asthma, mixes with other pollutants to create ozone and particulate matter, causes acid rain, and, when inhaled over the longer term, is linked to cardiovascular problems.
“Air pollution contributes to thousands of heart attacks and strokes every year, which disproportionately affects the most deprived people in our society,” said Chief Executive of the British Heart Foundation, Simon Gillespie.
“It is encouraging to see action being taken in the capital to tackle this, as air pollution is one of the biggest public health threats facing our generation. The introduction of ultra-low emission zones will help to lower the dangerously high levels of air pollution in London, and protect the heart and circulatory health of those who are most at risk,” he said.
These are further improvements on those reaped by the current Low Emissions Zone, which saw the percentage of children living at addresses in areas above the EU limit for nitrogen dioxide drop from 99 per cent in 2009 to 24 per cent in 2013, according to an earlier study on the impact of air pollution on the size of children’s brains.
Under the ULEZ, vehicles that do not meet the required emissions standards will be charged £12.50 to enter central London at any time, in addition to the £11.50 congestion charge if they do so between 7am and 6pm on weekdays.
The zone will be significantly expanded from October 2021.
But, while the prognosis is good for the reduction of nitrogen dioxide, the expected impact of the ULEZ and associated measures on fine particulate pollution is less optimistic.
In 2030, all Londoners are still expected to live in areas exceeding World Health Organization guidelines for PM2.5 (fine particulate matter equal to or less than 2.5 micrograms, much of it so tiny it can burrow into the bloodstream).
The Mayor’s office is pushing for the regulatory powers needed to address the issue.
In the United Kingdom, air pollution leads to about 40,000 premature deaths each year, and was estimated to have cost the National Health Service and social care in England £157 million in 2017 alone. Pollution from cars and vans was estimated to cost £6 billion per year in health damages in the UK.
Read the press release from the Office of the Mayor of London: Mayor’s action on air quality will benefit poorest Londoners the most
Read the research here: Air Pollution Exposure in London: Impact of the Environment Strategy
FAQs by The Guardian: London’s ultra-low emission zone: what you need to know
Banner photo by Khairil Zhafri/CC-BY-2.0