UK weather: How to stay safe in London's air pollution cloud

Air pollution has hit illegal levels in London but government has been slow to act

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The Independent Online

Today is the London’s worst day of the year for air pollution. Previous smog episodes have caused spikes in ambulance calls for breathing problems and contribute to an estimated 29,000 deaths a year across Britain. There’s also evidence to suggest that long-term exposure can cause respiratory diseases.

Here are some things you can do to stay safe in the smog and minimise your exposure when air pollution levels are high:

Take special care if you have asthma

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While it’s a good idea for everyone to avoid air pollution, the worst immediate effects are on people with pre-existing conditions. Pollution can trigger asthma attacks, even if it hasn’t done so before for you. Make sure you have your inhaler with you if you use one.

Get out of inner London

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Pollutions levels drop to safer levels past Highgate in the north and Brixton in the south. If you want to spend the day outside, high pollution days might be a good time to visit Hampton Court or go for a walk up the River Lea.

Avoid going outside at rush hour

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Pollution in London tends to be highest at rush hour because that’s when the most cars are on the road. If you can travel from work or home at a different time, do it. This could mean having a pint after work or working from home. If you normally drive a car in London, maybe leave it at home for the sake of everyone.

Stay informed about air pollution levels

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Get a feel for where and when pollution levels are high by using this live map created by academics at King's College London. Plan your day and journey accordingly.

Skip the run today

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You’ll massively increase your exposure if you do strenuous physical exercise outside. It might be a good idea to skip your run today, especially if you have asthma. Indoor exercise like going to the gym or swimming at an indoor pool might make a nice change.

Stay away from main roads

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A cyclist wears a face mask to avoid inhaling pollution, in London (Getty)

Despite highly-publicised factors like Saharan dust and hot weather exacerbating the problem, the biggest unsafe concentrations of air pollution are always near main roads where motor traffic dominates. If you can help it, stick to the backstreets.

Avoid Oxford Street

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This is also good advice on low-pollution days. Oxford Street is one of the most polluted roads in Europe and this year it exceeded its legal EU pollution limit for the year on 17 January. Some campaigners, including one prospective candidate for Mayor of London, want to pedestrianise the street.

Make it a political issue

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Other cities around the world have dramatically reduced air pollution after initiatives by their local governments. Paris temporarily banned half of its cars from its roads when pollution levels hit dangerous levels, which fixed the problems after a single day. Many north European cities have large and growing pedestrian-only areas and are thus have more nice places to sit out and have a beer.

If you care, let people know: write to your London Assembly member, local councillor, or the Mayor, and vote for candidates who propose solutions you think will solve the problem.

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