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London Gets ‘Particulate’ About Air Quality

22 August 2011

As part of Mayor Boris Johnson’s Air Quality Strategy, London’s municipal transportation system will “fast-track and expand” a package of innovative anti-smog measures over the next nine months. The goal is to reduce pollution at the busiest intersections in central London by 10 to20 percent.

The announcement comes after UK Transport Secretary Philip Hammond made an extra £5m ($8 million) in funding available in April to Transport for London, the City bureau responsible for public transit in Greater London.

The extra budget is specifically for a new Clean Air Fund, designed to help London comply withlegally binding European targets for Particulate Matter (PM) 10 and nitrous oxides. TheEuropean Commission (EU) increased pressure on the U.K. recently, warning that if it did not meet standards, the nation could risk fines of up to £300m ($500 million).

The first segment of Clean Air Fund work will comprise three initiatives:

1. The expansion of the application of dust suppressant — biodegradable saline solution (Calcium Magnesium Acetate) — which makes PM10 adhere to the roads and prevents it from recirculating in the air. The dust suppressant pilot study — a U.K.. first — ran from November 2010 to April 2011 at two locations, Victoria Embankment and Marylebone Road. Dust suppressant tests also have been conducted in Sweden, Norway, Austria, Italy and Germany

At Victoria Embankment, alone, tests showed that small, repeated applications can effectively reduce PM10 at curbside locations by as much as 14 percent on a daily basis. The scheme will continue to run on Victoria Embankment and Marylebone Road and also will be introduced at Park Lane and corridors such as the A2. In addition, trials at industrial and construction sites will be launched, to help tackle the source of pollutants where there are high levels of PM10. Two additional vehicles are set to be converted to apply the dust suppressant, enabling the two trial sites to be expanded into more areas, including the construction sites.

2. The promotion of a No Engine Idling Campaign, in order to reduce unnecessary exhaust from stationary motor vehicles. Black cabs account for around a quarter of PM10 emissions in central London, with up to 15 percent of that estimated to be as a result of taxi drivers leaving their engines idling when stationary. A team of five “eco-marshals” will monitor taxi stands at busy central London mainline stations and other on-street stands where air quality is particularly poor, and will serve as ambassadors for eco-driving courses designed to reduce emissions and save cabbies money via more efficient driving techniques.

The eco-marshals will be current TfL staff members, assigned on temporary duty, two of whom also are licensed London taxi drivers. They will conduct research that will be used to inform future activity, identify where to focus efforts, and develop better methodology to help taxi and private hire drivers change driving habits. Their research also will consider whether to change taxi rank layout and design.

TfL’s Managing Director for Surface Transport, has also written to coach, bus and freight operators to encourage their drivers to switch off their engines while stationary.

3. A greening program throughout London will “trap” pollution and beautify the city.Studies across Europe and the U.S. have shown the potential of vegetation, including trees and plants, to trap PM10. A row of 50 six-foot-tall planters has been installed along Lower Thames Street, one of central London’s most polluted roads. The planters will contain summer bedding plants, to help trap particulate matter, and will be replaced with ivy in the winter. These stand-alone planted towers are being used to test the benefits of green screens (vegetated barriers), which are considered a feasible option for the roadside, where footways are wider, as they will not provide barriers to pedestrian movement or impede visibility.

Other green infrastructure, including green walls and trees, will be placed at potential PM10 pollution hot spots across London. The Air Pollution Research in London Group (APRIL) is helping to evaluate the air quality, and wider environmental and climatic benefits of the green infrastructure measures

Air quality modeling shows that the vast majority of London already meets the EU limit value for annual average PM10, but there are some local hot spots identified as being “at risk” of exceeding limits. The EU recently confirmed to the U.K. government that the mayor’s plans to reduce PM10 pollution by a third by 2015—including the work of the Clean Air Fund —have lifted the looming threat of hefty fines.

Kulveer Ranger, the mayor’s environment director, commented: “Pollution is a serious health issue and the Mayor is determined to reduce its impact. A comprehensive package of clean-up measures, including innovative technology, is now being targeted where most needed in central London. In addition, action is being taken to deliver a permanent legacy of cleaner air right across the Capital. ”

Cheryl Kaften is an accomplished communicator who has written for consumer and corporate audiences. She has worked extensively for MasterCard (News – Alert) Worldwide, Philip Morris USA (Altria), and KPMG, and has consulted for Estee Lauder and the Philadelphia Inquirer Newspapers. To read more of her articles, please visit her columnist page.

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