Effects on health

This Royal Borough and much of London suffers from poor air quality. In the past air pollution was mainly caused by factory fumes and unrestricted coal burning, giving rise to large quantities of thick smoke. This when combined with fog resulted in “Smogs” with many deaths; after one episode in 1952 12,000 Londoners died. The constant smoky atmosphere also caused widespread lung disease and breathing difficulties. 

Today, high average concentrations of fine particles from road traffic exhaust, building sites, industrial furnaces and chimney smoke continue to pose a significant risk to health. Estimates suggest that in London alone 5000 people are dying early by as much as ten years in some cases, and many more are suffering ill-health because of air pollution.

Sources of air pollution and associated health effects 

Pollutants Sources Health effects
Nitrogen dioxide All combustion processes (for example road vehicles and domestic heating) produce oxides of nitrogen (NOx) which particularly in the presence of ozone is converted into nitrogen dioxide. General irritation to airways including increased chance of respiratory infection and impaired lung function.
Primary Particulates Road traffic (for example diesel engines, brake and tyre wear); industrial sources (for example power stations). Respiratory and cardiovascular problems. Concerns about long-term effects.
Secondary Particulates (e.g. sulphates, nitrates) Formed through the oxidation (presence of ozone) of particular gases (for example sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide) in the atmosphere condensing to form fine particles. Respiratory and cardiovascular problems. Concerns about long-term effects.
Carbon monoxide Road transport and industry (all combustion of carbon based fuels). Reduces the oxygen carrying capacity of blood and at low levels reduces concentration and at higher levels causes headaches, nausea, dizziness. At very high levels it can lead to death.
Sulphur dioxide Combustion of fossil fuels (mainly coal and heavy oils). Causes breathing difficulties, and irritation of the eyes, nose, throat and lungs. People suffering from asthma are particularly susceptible.
Lead Petrol and industry (such as smelting, and paint works). Can effect the intellectual development of children, and at very high doses poisoning, brain and organ damage can occur.
Benzene Combustion and distribution of petrol. Exposure over a long time can lead to cancer.
1, 3 Butadiene Combustion of petrol and diesel, and the production of rubber for tyres. Exposure over a long time can lead to cancer.
Ozone Ozone is a photochemical pollutant which means it is primarily formed by the reactions of other pollutants such as nitrogen oxides in the presence of sunlight. Exposure can cause an irritant effect on the lungs, airway inflammation and short term respiratory symptoms.