There have been a lot of claims by Sadiq Khan about the deaths caused by air pollution in London so as to justify his expansion of the ULEZ but his claims are unsubstantiated by the evidence available.
I have a strong personal interest in this matter because my father died from lung disease (mesothelioma – a cancer caused by exposure to asbestos), my brother died from idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (a lung disease for which there is no known cause) and I suffered from asthma when young due to allergies to pollen and other things. Anyone who has suffered from asthma or seen people die from lung disease will know how distressing it is.
It is known that air pollution can exacerbate asthma symptoms which I can confirm from my own personal experience but whether it can cause asthma is unclear. Even now I avoid walking behind London diesel buses! The onset of asthma can be triggered by many things and is a growing problem worldwide probably because of the change in lifestyles of the population and increased urbanisation. The largest source of air pollution is often in homes and offices and people spend more time in them and lead a sedentary life style as they become wealthier.
To attack air pollution in the hope that we can prevent all lung disease is misconceived. In particular to attack diesel/petrol cars in the hope of removing air pollution is a simplistic notion when there are multiple other sources of air pollution. If Sadiq Khan thinks he can cure his late-onset asthma (which he claims to have) then he is not living in the real world.
The air pollution sources in the UK in 2018 is given in the diagram above taken from a Public Health England report. Note that road transport only produces 12.4% of all PM 2.5 (particulate) emissions whereas residential and small commercial combustion produces 43.1%.
For London in 2019 you can refer to this report from the LAEI: https://cleanair.london/app/uploads/CAL-458-LAEI-2019-Summary-Note-FINAL-V2.pdf
Note how over 50% of PM2.5 emissions in central London come from commercial cooking! That report also shows how emissions of particulates and NOX (nitrous oxides) have been falling rapidly across London. This is not just due to the ULEZ and Congestion Charge schemes which probably only had minor impacts but a general improvement in energy production, heating and industrial processes.
The Freedom for Drivers Foundation published this report in 2018 (revised in 2021) called “Air Quality and Vehicles: The Truth” – see Report . It provides a well-reasoned and unbiased analysis of the data unlike so many of the comments you see on this subject. The situation since it was published has no doubt improved even further.
There is simply no justification for extending the ULEZ scheme. The reduction in air pollution in Greater London would be miniscule – about 0.1% in the important PM2.5 emissions for example. Nobody is going to notice this and it won’t have any significant impact on health outcomes. See https://freedomfordrivers.blog/2022/09/07/ulez-expansion-assessment-a-complete-fraud/ for the independent analysis commissioned by TfL (Jacobs Report).
There are many things the London Mayor and the Government could do about air pollution but expanding attacks on vehicle owners is one of the least beneficial in terms of cost/benefits. Reducing wood burning is one which the Government has recently tackled for example.
Removing air pollution might have some long-term health benefits although the likely benefit is uncertain. Removing all of it might extend life by a few days but to do that we would have to remove all road, rail and air transport, remove all domestic gas boilers, close down all restaurants, ban cooking at home, cease all agriculture, cease all new building and building renovation, close down most of industry, etc. How lunatic would such a policy be!
I am all for improving air quality where it can be achieved at reasonable cost and with no negative consequences. But expanding the ULEZ scheme will increase the cost of living for many people when they are already suffering from high inflation. It is simply unjustified and Sadiq Khan’s motivation despite his blustering about the impact on health is clearly motivated by financial imperatives.
You can “follow” this blog by entering your email address in the box below. You will then receive an email alerting you to new posts as they are added.