A bad combination of weather conditions and pollution would cause the grey veil to cover the capital for five days. London had suffered from poor air quality, mostly thanks to coal and locomotive exhaust, for a long time. Nobody thought it would cause what we know today as London's (in)famous Killer Fog.
As mentioned before, bad air and weather conditions were not new for the inhabitants. But this one… it was odd, full of tarry sulphur particles and later called “Great smog” or “pea-souper” because of its thickness and colour. People described it as “walking blind”. Visibility was down to a metre. However, there was no panic. People were used to fog. However, in the days and weeks after, Londoners would start to be tormented by respiratory problems and sadly, eventually killed.
The death toll rose to around 4,000 in the first weeks; however, recent studies say the total death toll was 12,000. Bronchitis and respiratory problems took the lives of mostly young and elderly people.
It resulted in the Clean Air Act 1956, which was effective in gradually removing sulphur dioxide and coal smoke. The Act of 1956 focused on a shift to cleaner coals, gas and electricity. It was a move towards a cleaner environment. But let's look at the world now. Can something like this still happen out of the blue? It can. And in some places, it does.
Texas A&M University-affiliated researchers believe that sulfate is still a big part of fog from coal burning. The study found that similar chemistry is responsible for smoggy skies in Beijing and X’ian. In Europe, the most polluted countries are Bulgaria and Poland. Air pollution is causing around 467,000 premature deaths in Europe every year, the European Environment Agency (EEA) has warned.
Can we take a step toward clean air? Yes, we can. Clean coal technology, renewables and less consumption should be our goal.