The silent assassin: How London's air is making you ill

As we learn that just two hours on Oxford Street can damage your arteries

Update: MPs call on government to tackle deadly “air pollution crisis” in UK. Click here for full story.

Anyone who commutes into London already knows that travelling through the city necessitates breathing some pretty unpleasant air.

But how damaging might it be to health?

New research conducted by the Royal Brompton and Harefield NHS Foundation Trust has shown that just two hours’ exposure to Oxford Street air could damage arteries and cause respiratory problems.

In a statement, Dr Rudy Sinharay, a clinical research fellow of the National Heart and Lung Institute at Imperial College London, said: “Airways obstruction and a stiffening of the arteries occurred in both the healthy volunteers and people with lung disease, even after limited exposure to diesel pollution.

“On the whole, the major health risk is cumulative over a long period of time. Christmas shoppers shouldn’t panic, but it would be wise for people with chronic lung or heart disease to check the air pollution forecast and limit their exposure on very polluted days.”

“The key message for policy makers is: we must do far more to reduce these high pollution levels in Central London’s busiest areas,” he added.

Cycling London Pollution

The background

It’s not the first time we’ve heard about how damaging London’s air pollution is for your health.

Check this lot out, for starters…

Oxford Street is the world’s most polluted street (Jul. 2014)

London air pollution contributes to all four main causes of death in capital (Jan. 2014)

Air pollution death rates up in half of London boroughs (Nov. 2013)

Rising air pollution levels linked to irregular heartbeat and lung clotting (Jun. 2014)


The need-to-know

Want to know more? Here’s what you need to know about the extent of the problem - and what you should do about it.

Park pollution


Cycle Facemask Bike cyclist pollution smog air


More on today’s news about Oxford Street

EU limits on nitrogen dioxide (NO2), which is emitted by diesel engines, were imposed in 1998 and were supposed to have been met in 2010. But London is unlikely to reach the EU limit until 2030, and in some areas exceeds the limit by factors of up to ten.  

Though private cars are banned on Oxford Street, the high number of buses and taxis clogging the street emit huge amounts of noxious fumes.

Earlier this month London Mayor Boris Johnson was forced to do a u-turn after he said it was “a ludicrous urban myth” that Oxford Street was among the most polluted in the world. However, research by a Kings College London air study indicated that Oxford Street does indeed have one of the highest levels of NO2 concentrations anywhere in the world.

According to the Times, at peak times during the day, NO2 levels of up to 463mcg were recorded – over 10 times the permitted EU maximum of 40mcg.

In November, the European Court warned the UK was in breach of laws concerning dangerous air pollution in 16 cities. The government can’t appeal the ruling and it will force ministers to act to clean up polluted areas.

More news from today…

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Anonymous

    An immediate improvement at low cost could be made to air quality by planting as many trees as possible across London.

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