Waltham Forest, like every London borough, has air with worrying levels of nitrogen dioxide
By Noah Vickers, Local Democracy Reporter
A new study of London’s air quality has revealed that the air in every borough breaches World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines on the toxic pollutant nitrogen dioxide.
Analysis by City Hall reveals that at 100 per cent of the 1,823 sites measured across the capital, nitrogen dioxide levels exceed the WHO’s recommended limit of 10 µg/m3.
The more stringent, legal limit on nitrogen dioxide levels is 40 µg/m3. Polluted parts of Waltham Forest, such as Crooked Billet Roundabout and Bakers Arms in Leyton, managed to fall below this limit in lockdown but quickly climbed again once it ended.
Data taken from the borough’s 50 nitrogen dioxide measuring sites in 2021 shows almost half recorded pollution above this legal limit during at least one month of the year, although most had an average level below the limit.
However in two neighbouring sites in Selborne Road in the centre of Walthamstow, even the monthly average was above this strict threshold.
The London boroughs with the highest percentage of sites recording pollution above the legal level were Merton, Brent and Croydon, each with more than a quarter of sites above the limit. However, the number of sites measured within each borough varied significantly; just 15 sites were measured in Barnet compared to 131 in Newham.
Some of the most polluted spots in London when it came to nitrogen dioxide were Harlesden High Street, near the railway station in Romford town centre and at the junction of Wembley High Road with Ealing Road.
The data was collected using nitrogen dioxide diffusion tubes – small, low-cost devices which enable the pollutant’s levels to be monitored over a wide network of locations. The tubes were placed both on roadsides and at “background” locations away from roads.
Every borough was included in the data collection – with the exceptions of Bexley and Harrow, where the boroughs’ councils did not install air quality monitors, City Hall said.
The data comes from 2021. In October of that year, Mayor Sadiq Khan expanded the Ultra low emission zone (ULEZ) from central London to cover the area within the North and South Circular roads.
The data shows a similar average concentration of nitrogen dioxide in both inner and outer London – which City Hall said “showed the need to take action right across the city”.
Mr Khan is planning to expand ULEZ to cover the whole of Greater London on August 29. The zone requires owners of older, more polluting vehicles to pay a daily charge of £12.50 to drive their cars.
The Mayor said: “London’s toxic air is leading to children growing up with stunted lungs and causes around 4,000 premature deaths a year – with the greatest number of attributable deaths in London’s outer boroughs.”
He said the data “is yet more shocking proof that London’s air quality has been in serious breach of the recognised global standard – and it’s a problem in every single part of the capital”.
He added: “I have made tackling toxic air pollution a priority since I was first elected in 2016, and we have made huge progress since then. However, I am determined to do all I can to ensure that children now and the next generation of Londoners can grow up breathing cleaner air – wherever they live in the capital.
“This is why I made the difficult decision to expand the Ulez London-wide – to help save lives and to give all Londoners the right to breathe cleaner air.”
Hirra Khan Adeogun, from climate charity Possible, said the data “shows just how much work there is still left to do on driving down air pollution and emissions in London”.
She added: “The ULEZ expansion will certainly help by making our streets healthier and greener but we need to go further. Dedicated cycle lanes, road user charging, and investing in public transport, these are things that will help secure our climate and secure the long-term health of Londoners.”
A legal challenge to the ULEZ expansion will be heard in the High Court later this year, after a judgment permitted a group of five councils to proceed. Hillingdon, Bexley, Bromley, Harrow and Surrey County Council were granted permission to challenge the policy earlier this month.
The five councils believe the plans are unlawful, arguing that there was a failure to follow statutory procedures and a failure to consider the potential for inclusion of non-Londoners in the new £110 million scrappage scheme. The Mayor’s office said the expansion plans would continue “without delay”.
City Hall Conservatives have claimed that the London-wide ULEZ would have a “disastrous” impact on people’s finances, while having a “negligible effect on air quality”.