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01 July 2010 | News | By: Rachel Holdsworth

4,000 Londoners Die Prematurely From Air Pollution

4,000 Londoners Die Prematurely From Air Pollution

Last year we brought you the news that up to 5,000 Londoners might be dying early because of shoddy air quality; now a report from the Institute of Occupational Medicine confirms that an "estimated 4,267" (if that's an estimate, we'd love to see them be precise) people in the capital die prematurely each year because of long-term exposure to pollution. (Point of order: we can't find the report in question on the GLA site and we work all day on t'internet. If anyone finds it, can they post a comment? Ta.)

Bryanston and Dorset squares in Westminster are the most polluted, with Marylebone High Street, Kings Cross and the City not far behind along with, worryingly, Hyde Park. Less a lung of London and more a wheezing mass of emphysema. But while the inner boroughs are the most polluted, the outer boroughs suffer the most related deaths; working in zone 1 is a health hazard, basically.

The City of London went over its annual allowance of 'bad air' days last week and now we can expect to be hit by fines from Europe. With the LEZ postponed and the WEZ scrapped, Boris's Air Quality Strategy will need to come up with some big ideas to make our air sweet again.

Rachel Holdsworth

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The report can be read here lovely Londonists:



reminds me of the great smog of 1952....




Please see also the Campaign for Clean Air in London's (CCAL) update on the health study:


CCAL has produced a provisional analysis of the hundreds of wards to produce rankings of the London boroughs by: population weighted concentration of fine dangerous airborne particles (PM2.5) i.e. pollution level; and the total number of premature deaths arising i.e. people dying up to nine years early due to long-term exposure to PM2.5.


This analysis confirms the picture painted by your excellent article.

With best wishes.

Simon Birkett
Campaign for Clean Air in London


Great report. Does Londonist, RachelH, Puzzler or Simon Birkett (hi, all) know who or what body is liable in law for failing to prevent this?


Hi Hilary.

As far as the fines from the European Commission are concerned, I believe the British government is the body that would have to pay any penalties, according to this article on BBC News.


Hi, Puzzler, thanks for that.

A fine from the EU seems so 'inadequate' somehow; we're talking about an administration that knowingly fails to prevent illnesses (not very nice illnesses btw) and death in a widespread section of its population.

Further, an administration that turns a healthy, productive part of its population into sickies.

I won't even mention babes and small children . . .

Franco Milazzo

Its only an estimate because statisticians are never certain that they have counted every possible case. For all they know, there were a whole heap of relevant cases which may have been attributed to unrelated causes.

Meanwhile, here is 60s pianist and rich-man's-Tim-Minchin Tom Lehrer with a song about pollution in NY. ;)



Hilary and Puzzler

Thanks for getting in touch.

Strictly, the UK as a Member State would be liable for unlimited lump sum and daily fines. This happens at the sixth of a six stage legal process*. I reckon the Government (of any colour) is likely to be more concerned about the (escalating) adverse media coverage during stages one to five than in the prospect of paying the fine (which I see as an essential deterrent but a bit of a 'red herring' since the health issues are much more important as RachelH has highlighted).

Jim Fitzpatrick, when Air Quality Minister at Defra (which would probably get passed the fine by the Treasury!) reckoned Defra/Govt would probably try to pass the full £300m per year per pollutant (let's not forget about nitrogen dioxide) to London ie us. Pity Boris doesn't seem much fussed about that prospect.

I hope that makes sense.

With my best wishes.


* it goes first then second/final written warning from the European Commission who can next take the case to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) for a judgement against the UK. If the UK still doesn't get the 'message' the EC can issue another first and second/final written warning before taking things back to the ECJ re contempt of Court.




Franco Milazzo

You're right about statistics.

The report for Boris says the number could be up to 8,000 premature deaths a year in London(ie due to long-term exposure to dangerous airborne particles). That's of some 52,000 deaths in total in the whole of Greater London in (say) 2005.

Prof Kelly of King's College London reckoned each of those people die up to nine years early.

Let's remember too that the 80,000 a year national figure for smoking premature deaths is also an epidemiological estimate (and compares to about 50,000 nationally due to poor air quality per the Environmental Audit Committee).

Best wishes.



While I always feel for people living the big cities... I used to be one of them for the better part of my life. I think the ease solution to this (other than reducing pollution) is to simply MOVE. While it sounds silly... the truth is the choice on where we live often rests solely in our hands, and we can change where we live most often. Not to mention cheaper rents or housing outside of the main cities.


Dear Christani and other commentators,

I have just walked down Great Portland Street, a street of fine buildings, nicely designed apartment blocks and zazzy shops.

The carbon coated filth on front of the buildings is truly shocking. There is fine carbon dust under one's feet, coating the paving. The rain that has just come on is washing the carbon dust back down into the breathing zone. We have no option but to breath this compromised air. The mayor's bikers must be breathing in lungfuls. Children - don't even think of it.

There should be a new term for these non-essential polluting vehicles: dirt machines.