This is a sponsored article on behalf of the Environmental Defense Fund.
From the introduction of the Ultra-Low Emissions Zone to creating Europe's largest electric bus fleet, major action has been taken in London to clean up the capital's air. However, there's still plenty more work to be done, and air pollution remains a serious public health threat for Londoners as we emerge from lockdown.
In 2019, over 39% of comparable sites in London's air quality monitoring network exceeded annual limits for NO2, while a whopping 80% of monitoring sites recorded levels of PM2.5 above the World Health Organization's recommended limit*.
But which areas of the city are worst affected? And how does your neighbourhood rank in terms of air quality? Well, thanks to a new state-of-the-art map, you can now get real-time information on what you're inhaling as you move about the city.
Breathe London is run by Environmental Defense Fund Europe (EDF Europe), created in partnership with the Mayor of London and leading science and technology experts. It exists to improve access to air pollution data and analysis, and give urban residents vital information about its impact on their health.
This is the first time that Londoners can see current air quality levels combined with real, measured street-by-street pollution data. To make this possible, Breathe London installed a network of 100+ lower-cost sensor pods which continuously transmit air quality measurements on lamp posts and buildings throughout the city; a significant expansion of London's existing monitoring networks.
Using data from these monitors, the Breathe London team found that NO2 pollution dropped by 20-24% in Central London during the first four weeks of lockdown.
Unsurprisingly, a sizeable chunk of London's air pollution comes from on-road vehicles. So in addition to the static sensors, Breathe London used specially-equipped Google Street View cars to measure pollution on a variety of London roadways.
These took readings approximately every second, and preliminary analysis has revealed that NO2 on major through roads is on average 50% higher than on quieter, local roads — even ones that are just a single street over.
The hyperlocal data captured by the sensor pods also reveals air pollution hotspots that would have previously gone undetected and enables authorities to work towards tailor-made solutions. Take a residential area situated close to a bus garage in Holloway, for example. Breathe London picked up unusually elevated levels of air pollution here and, as a result, Transport for London is now working with the bus operator to reduce it, including preventing buses from idling outside the garage — and data shows that pollution has since gone down at the site.
Breathe London also captures wider trends, like prolonged peaks in NO2 during the evenings from energy consumed within the home and, of course, rush hour spikes.
Children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of air pollution and, as they're often travelling to school during the morning rush, it's vital that air quality in and around London schools is monitored. Tower Bridge Primary School, which is located on a busy road, has installed its own Breathe London sensor.
The map also features a dataset showing how different activities contribute to local nitrogen oxides pollution — which can cause lung and heart health issues — in different areas. Click on a monitoring site to find out whether road transport, other transport, industrial and construction activities, heating and powering buildings, or other sources create most of the NOx pollution in that area.
Take a closer look at the Breathe London map here.
* Source: February 2020 Mayor of London report.
The Breathe London map was created before the Covid-19 outbreak. You can view a monitor’s recent data to see if it was affected by the drop in pollution as a result of the lockdown.