London is choking from record levels of pollution, much of it caused by diesel cars and trucks, as well as wood-burning fires in private homes, a growing trend. It has been bad enough to evoke comparisons to the Great Smog of December 1952, when fumes from factories and house chimneys are thought to have killed as many as 12,000 Londoners.
That crisis led to the landmark Clean Air Act in 1956.
London’s air pollution today is different from seven decades ago, and more insidious. No longer thick as “pea soup,” as it was traditionally described, the city’s air is now laced with nitrogen dioxide — a toxic gas mostly produced by vehicles with diesel engines.
The pollution is linked to 23,500 deaths in Britain each year, according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Britain has the highest number of annual deaths from nitrogen dioxide in the European Union after Italy, European Union statistics show.
On Wednesday, the European Union ordered five members, including Britain, to reduce car pollution levels or risk being sent to the European Court of Justice where they could face huge financial penalties.