Calls to tackle Hackney air pollution after 66 deaths

Pupils from Gayhurst school. Photo: Erland Evans

Pupils from Gayhurst school learning about diffusion tubes. Photo: Erlend Evans

Hackney is facing a serious air pollution problem, which has caused 66 deaths in the borough alone this year. Air pollution on most of London’s roads is twice the EU legal limit, an issue that is having a toxic affect on the population.

The ‘Campaign for Clean Air in London’ has been leading pressure for air pollution change across the capital, and released an interactive map with Kings College, showing the amount of nitrogen dioxide in the air. Hackney’s Mare Street displays results from 2010 that show higher pollution levels than the Governments own goals for that year.

‘I Like Clean Air’ is an organisation set up by Hackney parents to tackle air pollution in the borough, by raising awareness, and also by petitioning Transport for London to make all buses running through Hackney Central and Mare Street hybrid.

Hybrid buses, which use green diesel-electric hybrid technology, produce around 40% less carbon dioxide, a quarter of the particulate matter and nitrogen oxides, and are considerably more fuel efficient than the regular diesel buses.

With help from ClientEarth, a-non-profit environmental law organisation, members of ‘I Like Clean Air’ came together to hang up diffusion tubes in Gayhurst, London Fields, Lauriston and Orchard primary schools.

These diffusion tubes measure the amount of nitrogen dioxide in the air, and have been put up in the selected schools, to monitor the diesel emitting buses that frequently drive past.

Shazia Ali-Webber, a Hackney resident who set up ‘I Like Clean Air’ said, “I decided to set up this project earlier this year when my husband’s asthma deteriorated and I started getting wheezy for the first time in 25 years.”

“My husband cycles to work everyday and we have three children whom we walk and cycle to school every day. So the possibility that air pollution was playing a part in our family’s health was really worrying for us as we have no choice about the air we breathe!”

Shazia decided to contact ClientEarth in March 2014. After Further investigating air pollution in London she told us that, “They are at the forefront of challenging the UK government on its record on this vital issue.” Client Earth successfully blocked the UK Government’s attempts to try and extend their time on improving air pollution in the most polluted areas in 2009.

The ‘I Like Clean Air’ petition gathered 190 signatures in the first two weeks, through handing out flyers, word of mouth, and many parents have come forward to help out with the cause.

Shazia said, “This issue is vital because poor air quality is affecting people’s health and most people have no choice about the air that they breathe- they can’t afford to move and change jobs.”

“But we do have the technology to do something about it, if we leave it to the Mayor and TFL to improve our air quality it could take until 2030 before it falls to limits considered acceptable for human health.”

Hackney Green Party is supporting the ‘I Like Clean Air’ Campaign, Charlotte George, a spokesperson for the party said, “I have been speaking to Shazia, who has started the campaign, and we are supporting them in any way that we can”

“We are very keen for Hackney to be included in any Ultra-Low Emissions Zone, which is being discussed but the time frame is too long and far away – it’s not going to help the current generation of primary school children.” Ultra-Low Emission Zones are a Government scheme to combat air pollution by incurring extra fees for drivers whose cars do not meet emission standards. The fine will be around £12.50 per day, and this is on top of the congestion charge, and unlike the congestion charge it will operate 24 hours a day.

Boris Johnson who is backing the Ultra-Low Emissions Zone said, “Introducing the world’s first ultra low emission zone is an essential measure to improve London’s air quality and reduce NO2.”

‘I Like Clean Air’s’ petition to make all buses running through Central Hackney and Mare Street hybrid would prove very costly, with each new route master costing an average of £355,000. This would come out of the taxpayer’s money, who may not necessarily be living in London, and contributing to the pollution.

We put this to Charlotte George, and she said, “It’s all about priorities. It is better for local people, the environment, our children and the future. If that’s not worth spending money on, I don’t know what is. Also, as with many environmentally friendly technologies, the initial expense is offset by long-term efficiency and savings.”

“Paying less for petrol is going to be better economically and environmentally, so we see it as a win-win. The problem is there is rarely the political will to think long-term, because of the election cycle.”

The diffusion tube results will be published by the 17th of November. If you would like to support the ‘I Like Clean Air’ project, please take a look at the website where you can find out more information and sign the petition.


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