The Poison Killing Our Lungs

On the 8th April, an Ultra-Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) was introduced in Central London. Now, there is a £12.50 charge on vehicles and a new restriction on emissions in an attempt to ‘improve air quality’ for residents. This is most certainly a step in the right direction, though the impact of pollution on Londoners’ health is worrying. The ULEZ is only a fraction of what needs to be done. 

It is important to acknowledge that the ULEZ is a promising idea. Indeed, Transport For London (TfL) has predicted that this scheme will reduce toxic emissions from road transport by forty-five per cent in two years. This is immense progress. 

However, not enough is being done to reduce London’s levels of pollution. The ULEZ only applies to central London; the health of Londoners is deteriorating, and pollution is unequally impacting poorer residents. These reasons call for a far more urgent response to the air quality crisis in London instead.

Firstly, restrictions on road transport are set to be applied to Greater London as well as Central London from October 2021. This needs to happen far sooner. Understandably, this would be a huge and difficult change, reducing travel for many in the short term. It may prevent people from accessing their workplace, for example. However, alternative arrangements for transport should instead occur due to the dangerous – and illegal – levels of air pollution in London at the moment. Considering that fifty per cent of London’s air pollution is caused by road transport, traffic should be reduced immediately at all costs.

Secondly, academics from Queen Mary’s London, Kings College London and Edinburgh Universities have found that students in areas of illegal nitrogen dioxide limits were at much higher risk of lung disease. This should be a major driving factor in reducing road transport everywhere, let alone just in London. Furthermore, the BBC published a report showing that polluted air shortens around 40,000 people’s lives every year in the UK. The urgency of this situation is manifested in these statistics, showing clearly why this ULEZ zone is only the tip of an iceberg.

Thirdly, poor air quality impacts poorer Londoners’ the most, as emphasised by Sadiq Khan in an interview with the BBC. This is explained by the Guardian, who highlight that lower-priced housing is often located next to the busy roads. Consequently, poorer communities are constantly breathing in toxic fumes emitted by road transport. In addition, despite the new ULEZ zone reducing the amount of traffic, City Hall research instead states that over sixty per cent of vehicles travelling through the charging zone during March 2019 were actually already compliant with the new emission restrictions. This begs the question as to how much these new measures will really improve London’s air quality.

Though this new ULEZ zone is progress, there is much more action that needs to be taken. The government should use this new scheme as momentum to create a healthier and safer London for residents, which is becoming a more pressing and important issue every day. The upshot is, London authorities are simply not doing enough to protect the health of their residents.

Charlotte Abbott