The air we breathe

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Walking in the park, I often find myself breathing heavily when I near the road due to the toxins in the air. It worries me that physical exercise could actually be harmful to my health. According to the Independent, public parks such as Green Park, St. James’s Park and Kensington Gardens currently have illegal levels of air pollution, which is measured by comparing the amount of nitrogen dioxide to oxygen. The EU recommends that open parks should have under 40 micrograms of nitrogen dioxide per cubic meter of air, but now some parks have double that quantity. On January 24, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan issued an air pollution warning discouraging physical exercise in parks as it increases toxin intake.

The toxins in the air have reached excessive levels that are dangerous to the population. The government, industries and the general population are completely disregarding the problems they are causing for the environment and also the health issues they are provoking on themselves. According to the Evening Standard, in 2014, 8.3 percent of deaths in London were attributed to man made pollution, In recent years health issues such as lung cancer and asthma have increased, which can be connected the pollution problem. These deaths should call attention to the government that London is a hazardous environment and that the levels of pollution are detrimental to the people who live in the center of the city.

Consequently, in April 2015, the Supreme Court ordered the government to create an effective plan that would decrease the levels of pollution in the city. This was due to the fact that London, as well as other British cities such as Glasgow and Leeds, have not followed EU standards for air quality since 2010. In turn the government has attempted to improve the situation by introducing new improvements.

From 2018, all London Taxi’s will have to be zero emission capable, meaning the taxis will have to travel 30 miles without releasing carbon dioxide. Also, the taxis will not be permitted to function on diesel engines from 2018. An ultra-low emission zone will be established in 2020, which means that only ‘clean’ vehicles will be permitted to drive throughout central London. Vehicles will have to be below a certain exhaust emission standard, or pay a charge each time they enter the city. This will have a consequence on the taxi drivers of the city who are already struggling to compete with Uber. Although these solutions will make small short-term improvements, air pollution is still a growing problem.

Despite these changes, Heathrow’s new installation of the third lane will only exacerbate London’s air quality issue. The area around Heathrow is already breaching standards of healthy air and adding a third lane will only increase this problem. This installment completely disregards the safety of the people living near the airport. Unfortunately, the government has already decided to implement this idea which shows their disregard for the worsening conditions of the air pollution levels.

If the government is unable to take action, as a community we should take the matter into our own hands. As a school we have worked on increasing our recycling and reducing our food waste, but have not made enough changes about the type of transportation offered by the school. Although renting different vehicles could be inconvenient, the school should attempt to introduce cleaner vehicles to transport students to athletic events or other school sponsored activities. Students should start taking public transportation more frequently and avoid private cars to travel. This would reduce the community’s carbon footprint. Let’s see if, together with the government, we can make walking in the park actually good for us again.  

Written by Staff Writer Phaedra Letrou-Papamarkakis

Photo from Wikimedia Commons