In December 1952, a heavy blanket of acidic, pollution-laden, dirty-yellow and brown fog enveloped London. The Great Smog was so dense that people in the Isle of Dogs could not see their feet, while road, air and rail transport virtually ground to a halt. The smog was so toxic that cattle asphyxiated at Smithfield and at least 4000 people died from the pollution.1
Yet despite the Clean Air Acts of 1956, 1968 and 1993, air pollution continues to damage health. Public Health England (PHE) estimates that long-term exposure to air pollution – which is now almost invisible – directly caused about 29,000 early deaths in the UK during 2008: more than twice the annual death toll from breast cancer (11,716 in 2012).
'By way of comparison, 1500 people die in road traffic accidents a year,' says Susan Frost, lead respiratory nurse specialist at Birmingham Children's Hospital.