London Exceeds Europe’s Annual Pollution Goal Four Months Into Year

At London’s Marylebone Road monitoring station, the number of "days in exceedance," when particle pollution levels breach permitted limits, reached 36 today, according to the London Air Quality Network website. That’s more than the 35 failures permitted for the entire year under EU rules. The so-called PM10 particles measured derive mainly from vehicles, factories and construction.

The U.K. risks a 300-million pound ($500 million) EU fine for London’s repeated breaches of air pollution targets, said Murad Qureshi, spokesman on environment in the London Assembly for the opposition Labour Party. The European commission last month gave Britain until June 11 to meet the standards.

"It doesn’t bode well if, at the beginning of the year, we’ve already exceeded our annual allowance," Qureshi said today in a telephone interview. "Air pollution was a big issue at the last two Olympics in Athens and in Beijing. We don’t want it to be a problem here in London."

London has the nation’s worst air quality and the highest levels in Europe of PM10 particles, Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee, a multi-party panel of lawmakers, said last year. Air pollution from traffic and industry kills as many as 50,000 people in the U.K. a year, it said.

Mayor’s Problem

London Mayor Boris Johnson should fight pollution by improving public transport, raising standards for taxis and replacing more buses with hybrid and hydrogen-fueled versions, Qureshi said.

"The mayor is already taking action to improve London’s air quality with cleaner buses, tougher standards for the Low Emission Zone and the first ever age limit for taxis," Johnson’s office said in an e-mailed statement. "Since the beginning of 2011, we estimate that more than 75 per cent of air pollution episodes have occurred when pollutants have been blown in from Europe."

Johnson should also erect signs in polluted areas to warn people when daily recommended amounts are breached, Qureshi said. That task should fall to the central government, Johnson’s office said.

While the Olympic Games will be mainly sited in east London, where there are fewer breaches of pollution standards, events including archery and beach volleyball competitions will be held in the center and west, and many Olympic visitors will be staying in downtown hotels, Qureshi said.

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