When we think of city smog, we might think of the days when the new Victorian factories choked city air with thick smoke. Many times during the 1800s in the East End of London, in particular, it was barely possible to see from one side of the street to the other. It was hard to breathe and people died from the damage the polluted air caused to their lungs.
But in far more recent times the same levels of pollution have blighted the lives of city dwellers. One such event was the ‘Great Smog of 1952’. Information gathered by the Met Office explains how and why such an event occurred.
The weather in November and early December 1952 had been very cold, with heavy snowfalls across the region. To keep warm, the people of London were burning large quantities of coal in their homes. Smoke was pouring from the chimneys of their houses.https://www.metoffice.gov.uk/weather/learn-about/weather/case-studies/great-smog
Under normal conditions this smoke would rise into the atmosphere and disperse, but an anticyclone was hanging over the region. The weather contributed to a situation that trapped the air close to the ground. As well as the smoke coming from household chimneys, gases were being pumped out of factory chimneys and easterly winds brought even more polluted air from the continent. It was ‘the perfect storm’…
Early on 5 December, in the London area, the sky was clear, winds were light and the air near the ground was moist.https://www.metoffice.gov.uk/weather/learn-about/weather/case-studies/great-smog
The fog was so thick that people could barely breathe. It took several days for the fog to finally clear, but by then it was clear that the effects had been devastating. Reports were received that cattle had been asphyxiated by the smog and sadly at least 4,000 people died.
Despite the terrible toll on London residents, it would be another four years before the Clean Air Act of 1956 was passed and longer still before stricter laws came into force in 1968, which finally ensured that people could breathe more easily on the streets of London and beyond.