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Cold weather alert: Think twice about travelling, asthma sufferers told

Evening Standard logo Evening Standard 27/01/2023 Daniel Keane
People shelter from the elements on Westminster Bridge this week © PA People shelter from the elements on Westminster Bridge this week

Vulnerable Londoners should think twice about travelling on colder days due to high levels of pollution, a scientist has warned.

Frank Kelly, professor of community health and policy at Imperial College London, warned that anyone with respiratory conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) was at particular risk from toxic air.

Cold, still and foggy weather makes it more difficult to dissipate car fumes. The Mayor’s air pollution warnings are issued by Professor Kelly’s team at Imperial College, which examines air quality patterns in conjunction with weather forecasts.

He told the Standard: “Those who are sensitive to air pollution should think twice about travelling during this cold snap. If you are going to travel, ensure you have your medication with you.

“For those who aren’t vulnerable, it’s about minimising your contribution to air pollution and not taking that car journey. If you can cycle or take the bus, then please do that.” Professor Kelly explained that the high levels of pollution were caused by a “double whammy” of freezing temperatures and an increase in people heating their homes or lighting fires.

“We had lots of emails and calls into us saying they could smell coal burning and wood burning in their local neighbourhoods,” he said.

“A cold event like this is the equivalent of a lid being put on top of a pot of boiling water. The pollution emerging from London has nowhere to escape and it just builds up.”

Temperatures will reach 8C on Friday before plunging again close to freezing overnight, London forecasts show. A cold weather alert covering England, warning of icy conditions and cold temperatures has been issued by the Met Office until midday on Saturday. The Met office warns: “This weather could increase the health risks to vulnerable patients and disrupt the delivery of services.”

Air pollution is estimated to contribute to up to 36,000 early deaths in Britain every year, according to Asthma + Lung. Temperatures are set to rise in the coming days, which Professor Kelly believes will bring air pollution levels back to normal levels.

Mr Khan claimed that the pollution alert was evidence of why it was “so vital” to adopt extent ultra-low emission zone across the entirety of London “to reduce toxic air pollution in our city”.

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