There is an invisible threat to Londoners’ health: Air pollution likely contributes to thousands of early deaths in London every year.
Urban residents need better information on pollution’s health effects, as well as readily available — and understandable — air pollution data and analysis. That’s why the Breathe London pilot project mapped and measured pollution across the capital, led for two years by Environmental Defense Fund Europe and launched in partnership with the Mayor of London and leading science and technology experts.
With more than 100 lower-cost sensor pods and specially-equipped Google Street View cars, Breathe London complemented and expanded upon London’s existing monitoring networks. The project aimed to help people better understand their local air quality and support cities around the world with future monitoring initiatives. EDF developed the Breathe London Blueprint for global cities, which includes both a guide for city-level decision-makers and a more detailed Technical Report.
Click on the map to see average pollution levels in London.
A city bus garage was an unknown pollution hotspot
One of the benefits of a denser air-quality monitoring network is its ability to highlight local issues, such as unusually elevated levels of air pollution — or hotspots — that had previously gone undetected.
Breathe London’s sensor network identified a NO2 hotspot close to a bus garage in a residential area in Holloway. The government entity responsible for Greater London’s transport system, Transport for London, has been working with the bus operator to find ways to reduce pollution and improve air quality, including stopping buses idling outside the garage. Data shows pollution has since gone down.
COVID lockdown slashed one pollutant
Our analysis found NO2 pollution was 40% lower than expected across London during the initial COVID-19 lockdown. But how do we know about pollution that didn’t happen? We used a machine learning model to predict what concentration of NO2 would have been if lockdown restrictions had not come into effect. Learn more here.
Turning London pollution data into action
One of the main sources of London’s air pollution is transport. On-road vehicles — like cars, delivery vans and trucks (lorries in UK) — are responsible for some of the most harmful air pollutants, including nitrogen oxides and particulate matter.
Building on the landmark monitoring project of Breathe London, our air quality team is using data to spotlight the city’s pollution from transport and other sources. For example, diesel fuel is an especially harmful polluter, so we zoomed in on air pollution created by diesel cars. And with partners at Google and the Waze for Cities program, we took a closer look at rising traffic congestion in different parts of London.
Data analyses like these demonstrate the urgent need for action to protect public health and reduce air pollution from transport. The pivotal Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) — which charges a fee for older, more polluting vehicles to enter London’s city center — provides a great foundation, but leaders need to go further by improving cycling infrastructure and better public transport connectivity.
By making data actionable, we aim to support grassroots activism and raise city-level policy ambition so all Londoners can breathe easier.