Air pollution: Unsafe levels of smog - which can enter bloodstream - across London

“I don’t want any more children to die from something we already have the tools to solve.”
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Unsafe levels of air pollution micro-particles which can enter directly into and damage lung tissue and bloodstreams have been detected across the capital.

Every borough in London was found to have unsafe levels of PM2.5 pollution according to data gathered in 2020 by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

Previous guidance from the World Health Organisation (WHO) suggested that up to 10 micrograms of PM2.5 pollution was safe, but this was slashed to five micrograms last year.

London seen through a haze of air pollution. Photo: GettyLondon seen through a haze of air pollution. Photo: Getty
London seen through a haze of air pollution. Photo: Getty

Nine-year-old Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, of Lewisham, London, died from an asthma attack in 2013 and was the first person in the UK to have air pollution listed as a cause of death.

Her mother, Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, called for a nationwide information campaign, saying: “Had I known about the dangers of air pollution, and walking by polluted roads, my daughter would still be alive today.

“I don’t want any more children to die from something we already have the tools to solve.”

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The UK limits for the amount of PM2.5 - this particularly fine type of air pollution - allowed per cubic metre currently stand at 20, while in Scotland it is believed that up to 10 are safe.

According to the 2020 data, Newham council recorded the highest levels of PM2.5 particles with 10.6 per cubic metre.

The amount of this pollution was also above 10 in Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Islington, Westminster, Southwark, Lambeth and Kennsington & Chelsea.

Nine-year-old Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, whose death was attributed to air pollution by a coroner. Photo: The Ella Roberta Estate.Nine-year-old Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, whose death was attributed to air pollution by a coroner. Photo: The Ella Roberta Estate.
Nine-year-old Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, whose death was attributed to air pollution by a coroner. Photo: The Ella Roberta Estate.

Levels of PM2.5 pollution were slightly smaller further out from inner London, with Barnet at 8.9 and Harrow 8.7, but both still significantly over what the WHO would now consider safe.

Now the latest data from 2021 at five monitoring sites in London would seem to confirm that levels of PM2.5 remain in the unsafe range.

DEFRA said it aimed to cut people’s exposure to particulate pollution by more than a third by 2040, compared with 2018 levels.

Ella’s mother, Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, addresses the London Clean Air and Health Summit in London in February 2022. Photo: Leon Neal/Getty Images.Ella’s mother, Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, addresses the London Clean Air and Health Summit in London in February 2022. Photo: Leon Neal/Getty Images.
Ella’s mother, Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, addresses the London Clean Air and Health Summit in London in February 2022. Photo: Leon Neal/Getty Images.

But environmental charity Friends of the Earth called for more to be done.

Air pollution campaigner Jenny Bates said: “For far too long too little has been done to protect people from the scourge of air pollution, which particularly affects the young, the elderly and the most disadvantaged.

“Particular action is needed to cut levels of the most health damaging fine particles, which can get deep into the lungs and bloodstream and can lead to disease and early death.”

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Ms Adoo-Kissi-Debrah set up the Ella Roberta Foundation to campaign for cleaner air in her daughter’s memory.

She said: “Air pollution is a public health emergency and a question of social justice.

“The government’s own data shows us this, and the facts are not in doubt.”

She continued: “Every new study confirms what we already know: that this is a pandemic that requires urgent and coordinated action.

“We don’t all breathe the same air: if you’re poor, you’re more likely to live in areas of high particulate pollution.

“But this is an issue that affects everyone, with studies suggesting links to dementia, lung and brain cancer, as well as the exacerbation of asthma which is damaging the lives of so many of our children.”

City Hall has been contacted for comment.