London Air Pollution
- Until the 12th century, most Londoners burned wood for
- But as the city grew and the forests shrank, wood became
scarce and increasingly expensive.
- Large deposits of "sea-coal" off the northeast coast
provided a cheap alternative.
- 1500 AD: 60,000
- 1600 AD: 250,000
- 1700 AD: 600,000
- 1800 AD: 1,000,000
- Soon, Londoners were burning the soft, bituminous coal to
heat their homes and fuel their factories.
- Sea-coal was plentiful, but it didn't burn efficiently.
- A lot of its energy was spent making smoke, not heat.
- Coal smoke drifting through thousands of London chimneys
combined with clean natural fog to make smog.
- If the weather conditions were right, it would last for
- Early on, no one had the scientific tools to correlate smog
with adverse health effects, but complaints about the smoky air as an
annoyance date back to at least 1272, when King Edward I, on the urging of
important noblemen and clerics, banned the burning of sea-coal.
- Anyone caught burning or selling the stuff was to be
tortured or executed.
- The first offender caught was summarily put to death.
- This deterred nobody.
- Of necessity, citizens continued to burn sea-coal in
violation of the law, which required the burning of wood few could afford.
- Laws and treatises failed to stop citizens from burning
- Too many people burned it and there were no real
- Anthracite coal was much cleaner but too expensive.
- By the 1800s, more than a million London residents were
burning soft-coal, and winter "fogs" became more than a nuisance.
- An 1873 coal-smoke saturated fog, thicker and more
persistent than natural fog, hovered over the city of days.
- As we now know from subsequent epidemiological findings,
the fog caused 268 deaths from bronchitis.
- Another fog in 1879 lasted from November to March, four
long months of sunshineless gloom.