London’s Air: As Bad as Beijing?

Image by Simon GoldbergThough I know the Olympics are coming up very quickly, thoughts about it have largely been tucked away in the back of my mind. From an allergy/asthma perspective, there are certainly athletes competing who are dealing with asthma, like US swimmer Pete Vanderkaay, but with the games being hosted in London, there have not been the red flags going up like there were four years ago in Beijing. Is London's air quality really that good?

_In the months leading up the 2008 games in Beijing, there was a lot of well placed concern over the air quality that Olympic athletes would have to deal with. Concern over the air quality in Beijing is well placed as it has some of the most consistently poor air quality of any city on this planet. The Chinese did recognize this problem and attempted to improve air quality in a few ways, namely they cut emissions in the time leading up to the games. One effort involved cutting the number of vehicles that were operating in the city in half. Fast forward four years, and there's been nary a peep about air pollution in London.

_London has a troubling past when it comes to air pollution. Everyone's heard the term ‘London Fog,’ but in this instance, I'm not referring to a soup, cocktail or nightclub. In 1952 thousands of Londoners died from the effects of ‘the great smog of '52’. Air pollution settled over the city in a thick smog, and following this event air pollution laws went in to effect to prevent this from happening again.

_I'm not suggesting that a toxic cloud of smog is going to amass over London and wreak havoc, but critics are quick to point out that London is not in compliance with EU air quality guidelines and that levels of nitrogen dioxide are frequently high. Additionally, studies attribute roughly 4000 premature deaths each year in London due to air pollution. While not occurring from a single event like the Great Smog, the death toll from exposure to consist pollution annually equals that of the Great Smog – 4000.

_For most people this will equate to a moderate warning that you will find in a lot of U.S. cities during the summer months. However, for Olympic athletes, these small reductions in air quality can translate into the difference between 1st and 2nd.

_Author: Kevin Gilmore

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