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What Happened During The Great Smog of London?

Pollution has been an inherent challenge to many countries, and it is usually the by-product of progress and industrialization. While pollution, in general, causes several health risks, did you know about The Great Smog of London in the 1950s?

In December of 1952, London’s fog turned to deadly smog. It killed almost 4,000 Londoners and caused illnesses to an additional 100,000. The great smog of London gave way to the Clean Air Act in 1956.

The Great Smog of London

Fog over London is not an unusual phenomenon as it has been part of the city’s history since the 13th century. At around this time, air pollution was already seen as an issue. Most households burned coal in their furnaces to keep warm, and the city’s rapid growth gave birth to industrialization, which in turn gave rise to factories.

As the city continued to grow, the pollution it created also increased. On December 5, 1952, the worst air pollution was experienced by the people of London. The Great Smog of London, described as a sickly yellowish-brown fog, lasted for four days, killing approximately four thousand people and leaving hundreds of thousands sick with pneumonia or bronchitis.

It started when an anticyclone, a high-pressure weather system that trapped cold air under warmer air higher in the atmosphere, created a fog. The fog trapped the waste factories and household furnaces in the atmosphere near-ground level. The pollution could not dissipate into the higher atmosphere because of the mist. (Source: Britannica)

According to researchers, the smog was made up of the following impurities in the air per day it lasted: around 1,000 tons of smoke particles, 2,000 tons of carbon dioxide, 140 tons of hydrochloric acid, 14 tons of fluorine compounds, and approximately 370 tons of sulfur oxide that was then converted to 800 tons of sulfuric acid.

The smog was so bad that it disabled most public transportation, except the subway. Many people reported leaving their vehicles on the road and had extreme difficulty navigating due to zero viability conditions. Ambulance services were also extremely limited due to the condition, and most indoor plays and concerts were canceled because the audience could not see the stage despite it being indoors.

Besides the deaths of people, it was also reported that many animals choked to death because of the smog. It was also said that the crime rate rose during the duration of the pollution. The smog finally cleared out on December 9 but left long-term effects on the population. (Source: Met Office)

Clean Air Act of 1956

Following the devastation the great smog left, a committee chaired by Sir Hugh Beaver was formed. Its goal was to identify the sources of the smog and consequently made several recommendations which led to the formation of the Clean Air Act.

The Act was given royal assent in July 1956, tackling the smog and air pollution created by burning coal and other industrial activities. This gave local authorities the power to set up smoke control zones wherein the emission of any of these materials stated was banned.

Local authorities soon controlled the emissions of smoke, grit, dust, and fumes from industrial premises and furnaces. The Act also covers restricting the burning of coals for domestic use. (Source: Navigator)

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