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The problem extends well beyond London and the main industrial cities — on the list were Saltash in Cornwall and Chepstow in Monmouthshire: small towns where you might expect clean air.
The sulphur content of diesel fuel has been reduced.
On occasions, atmospheric conditions would conspire to turn the pollution into something much worse.
The deadly ‘pea souper’ of December 1952 cost 4,000 lives and caused London to grind to a halt.
But one thing is for sure: while we once led the world in tackling air pollution, we are now failing to live up to internationally accepted standards.
Much has been made in recent months about diesel engines, and how they have been emitting higher levels of harmful nitrogen oxides than official tests suggest — partly as a result of cheating on the tests admitted by VW, but suspected among other manufacturers, too.
The most deadly element of this toxic soup is tiny soot particles called PM2.5s — defined as having a diameter of one four-hundredth-of-a-millimetre or less — approximately 30 times smaller than the thickness of a human hair.
They can penetrate deep into the lungs, and have been implicated in exacerbating lung and cardiovascular diseases.
There are now hundreds of appliances on the list, ranging from wood-burning stoves to biomass boilers. But as with diesel engines, the level of pollution measured in a controlled test does not necessarily reflect what spews out of them in practice — when, for example, people open the doors of their wood-burner to create a homely, open-fire effect.
A study in Tasmania, where new wood-burning stoves are allowed only if they are designed to emit less than 2.5g of PM2.5s per kg of wood burned, found that in real life they emit nearly four times that — with an average of 9.4g per kg.
At that level, a single wood stove burning three tonnes of wood a year — the average — will emit as much PM2.5 pollution as 2,000 petrol cars.
It’s likely the levels of pollution from wood-burning stoves in Britain are at least as high, however no tests of this kind — that is, in conditions that imitate real life — have been carried out over here yet.
But how many of them can see the connection between the ‘irresistible ambience’ and the decision by London Mayor Sadiq Khan this week to declare a ‘very high’ pollution alert?