London has launched the largest and most advanced air quality monitoring network in the world, which will help the city’s policymakers “put the right policies in place”, according to London Mayor Saddiq Khan.
London is working with academic, private sector and non-governmental organizations partners on Breathe London, a year-long, multi-partner project funded by C40 cities and the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, and managed by the Environmental Defense Fund Europe.
Breathe London has mounted a network of 100 state-of-the-art sensor pods on lampposts and buildings in the worst affected areas and sensitive locations throughout the city, which will take continuous readings, while Google Street View cars fitted with mobile sensors will roam over a thousand miles of roadways taking readings about every 30 metres.
“This real-time data will also help us learn more about London’s toxic air and help us to put the right policies in place to continue our clean-up efforts. As a recent Aether report demonstrated, these actions will benefit all Londoners, but particularly those living in the capital’s deprived areas. I hope the success of this scheme will act as a blueprint for cities around the world as they battle their own toxic air emergencies,” said Mayor Khan.
This is significant in a world where 9 out of 10 people breathe air that does not meet World Health Organization guidelines and 7 million people die each year from diseases caused by air pollution, the majority of them from low- and middle-income countries.
Indeed, Breathe London partner EDF blogged: “…varying levels of pollution mean the quality of the air we breathe differs sharply from country to country, from state to state – even street to street. In West Oakland, California, for example, researchers have shown that air pollution levels can vary by up to eight-fold within a single city block. Those differences in air quality have enormous public health impacts.”
That a person’s address can greatly determine the quality of the air he or she breathes is London’s experience, too: residents living in the most deprived areas of the city breathe 25 per cent more nitrogen dioxide pollution on average than those living in the least deprived areas— the ULEZ and associated measures are expected to narrow this gap by 72 per cent by 2030.
According to the Breathe London site, “With a more accurate and more widely understood picture of the problem, tailored solutions to air pollution can be introduced which are easier to deliver. By helping to identify areas of London where stronger forms of intervention are justified by highly robust scientific evidence, we will give policymakers the evidence, and generate the local support they need to address the problem.”
A recently-released study found that within London’s Low Emissions Zone, currently in effect, higher annual air pollutant exposures in London was associated with smaller lung capacity in children, and another study is in the works to gauge the impact of London’s upcoming Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) on child health.
The cost of air pollution to the London economy has been estimated at £3.7 billion every year, due to the health impact of fine particulate pollution (PM₂.₅) and nitrogen dioxide leading to lost life-years, hospital admissions and deaths.