Pollution ‘six times recommended limit’ in the Big Smoke


Types of pollution which can worsen asthma and heart disease reached up to six times the recommended limit in South-east London, research has shown.

Residents given measuring devices by Goldsmiths College, New Cross, found that the amount of particles in the air in seven places soared over the maximum recommended by the World Health Organisation.

The university’s scientists believe the problem is caused by road traffic, construction sites, and boats on the River Thames.  Goldsmiths’ Citizen Sense (CS) research group equipped residents with their new “Dustbox” device designed to measure the volume of particulates of 2.5 (PM2.5) – which can reach the lungs and worsen medical conditions such as asthma and heart disease.

The WHO daily average concentration guideline of  25 micrograms of PM2.5 per cubic metre of air (µg/m3) was regularly exceeded across Deptford, New Cross and Lewisham, with daily average concentrations above 150 µg/m3 being registered on multiple occasions between January and April this year.

The research highlighted a number of likely causes of increasing pollution, with particularly high instances of PM2.5 detected at major traffic junctions, around redevelopment sites, and at spots where drivers leave engines idling.

Data from the Pepys area of Deptford also indicated that diesel-fuelled traffic on the River Thames could be causing elevated levels of PM2.5. Two Dustboxes about 200 metres from the Thames regularly registered a daily average concentration of PM2.5 over 100 µg/m3 in February.

Goldsmiths professor of sociology and project lead Jennifer Gabrys said: “There were a number of striking findings from this research, not least the spikes in pollution on certain days and around certain areas.

“The results suggest rapid urban regeneration, ever growing volumes of vehicles, and traffic idling are becoming increasingly harmful to London’s atmosphere and its population. We were also drawn to findings that suggested pollution could be coming from River Thames traffic, which raises questions about how we manage that as a city.

“All citizens who took part in this research did so because they are concerned about the rising levels of pollution in their city, and want to use evidence to support projects to improve the urban realm.”

The Dustbox was developed at Goldsmiths by the Citizen Sense research group. It includes a sensor for detecting PM2.5, a microcomputer, and WiFi connectivity so data can be uploaded and analysed in real time. Citizen Sense carried out similar research in the US from 2014 to 2016.

This application of monitoring technology in the UK has been carried out by Citizen Sense team members Professor Gabrys, Helen Pritchard and Dr Lara Houston. Up to 30 devices were distributed to participants, and were also available for free loan at the Deptford Lounge Library from October 2016 to September 2017.

Project leaders have recommended:

  • Build on the Lewisham council Local Implementation Plan to develop a traffic management plan for Deptford and New Cross in order to identify areas to improve pedestrian, cycle and public transport routes, and to understand the potential impact of the Ultra Low Emission Zone.
  • Address the impact of new development and increasing population in the area, with a realistic projection of the likely numbers of new cars that will be in the area.
  • Develop planning laws to address the effects from demolition, construction traffic, higher densities of buildings, and people and traffic from new developments – eg, a requirement that all new developments are air quality neutral.
  • Enforce dust management plans.
  • Audit green spaces in the borough to lessen pollution.
  • Plant trees to minimise pollution
  • Fund community organisations to monitor air quality.

The citizen data can be analysed through the Citizen Sense data analysis toolkit, Airsift, at

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