Smoggy Hackney is being forced to clean up its air pollution after it was revealed that some of the borough’s roads exceeded EU emission limits by 300 per cent.
According to Robert Tyler, Hackney’s principal pollution officer, the borough has one of the worst concentrations of nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter, such as dust and smoke, in London.
The main hotspots for harmful gases are Victoria Park Road and Old Street, while areas in northern Hackney are cleaner.
A six-month Cleaner Air Champion initiative was launched at a meeting of officials and concerned residents at Stoke Newington Town Hall on Monday.
Project leader Katie Meakin, of eco-friendly charity Sustrans, said: “When people think air pollution, they think 1950s smog. Nowadays we can’t see it, we can’t feel it, so it’s hard to understand and even harder to get the message across that this is still a problem that needs addressing.”
Sixty-three per cent of nitrogen dioxide emissions in London can be attributed to transport, 16 per cent from heating buildings and the rest come largely from the construction industry.
According to the Greater London Authority and Hackney Council, air pollution cost over 4,000 lives in 2008 and is closely linked to respiratory illness. They also estimated that it costs £2bn annually through hospital admissions and absences from work.
Katie Watson, air quality officer at the GLA said: “We don’t want to cause alarm: for most people air pollution won’t cause many problems.
“The quality of our air is improving; the last 15 years has seen a huge reduction in air pollutants. We are only now becoming more aware of the problem because we know more about it.”
She added that busy roads surrounded by tall buildings, such as Euston Road and Marylebone Road, are the most concentrated areas of air pollution and only sustained exposure is likely to cause serious damage to health.
Mr Tyler said: “If everyone walked or cycled in Hackney air quality would be better and people would be healthier.”
Sustrans is now seeking 10 volunteers to become Cleaner Air Champions. The position involves conducting one or two activities each month such as tree planting, promoting walking and cycling, and giving advice on home insulation.
Sustrans will provide training and induction as well as access to a £10,000 fund, provided by the Greater London Authority.
This article was originally published in the Hackney Post.