A European Commission spokesman has disputed claims by Boris Johnson that airborne pollution originating on the continent is responsible for “75 per cent” of incidents of London breaching EU pollution targets.
The capital is allowed to breach EU targets for particulate matter (PM10) on 35 days of the year, however Marylebone Road has already had 29 “bad air days” this year.
Last month the EC granted the UK an extension to comply with the targets, however a decision to pause rather than revoke threatened legal action leaves the capital facing a potential £300m fine if the targets are not met.
Citing his two-year deferral of the Low Emission Zone’s third phase and abolition of the Congestion Charge’s Western Extension, environmental campaigners say the Mayor has failed to take the action needed to reduce pollution and avoid the fines.
In recent months the Mayor has unveiled a number of measures to tackle air quality including treating roads in the most polluted areas to ‘glue’ the pollutants to the road surface and re-introducing six-monthly checks for Taxi cabs, a measure introduced by former Mayor Ken Livingstone and scrapped by Johnson.
The Mayor first claimed European responsibility for “75 per cent” of the capital’s pollution while being questioned by the London Assembly last month.
The claim was repeated today in a statement issued ahead of a meeting with EC Vice President Siim Kallas which stated “Three quarters of the occasions when legal limits of PM10 concentrations were exceeded during February and March were due to pollution blown in from continental Europe.”
However a statement issued last week by Joe Hennon, European Commission Spokesman for the Environment, disputes the impact of cross-border pollution in the capital.
In a lengthy rebuttal of the Mayor’s claims, Mr Hennon says “most of the time the dominant south westerly winds in the UK transport the air pollution in the opposite way, i.e. from the UK to Northern Europe.”
Hennon also says where pollutants are carried by winds, their passage dilutes them and that for this reason “air pollutants from the continent would not influence local air quality significantly.”
Speaking last month, Darren Johnson, a Green party member of the London Assembly, said the Mayor “appears to be saying that this ill wind is gathering up all the pollution from Paris and dumping it directly on Marylebone Road, whilst by-passing areas like Bromley, Havering and Harrow which are all under the European pollution limits.”
Johnson today said: “The reason why Londoners are still suffering from such high levels of air pollution is a combination of the Mayor taking backward steps and his failure to act decisively with a ban on all but the cleanest vehicles entering central London.”
Hennon’s full statement:
“Air pollution knows no borders, of course, and it may well be that air pollution from continental Europe is transported to the UK during particular meteorological episodes. But these episodes are usually seldom, for reasons I will come to, and most of the time the dominant south westerly winds in the UK transport the air pollution in the opposite way, i.e. from the UK to Northern Europe.
“Inverse wind circulation from the east to the west, driving air pollution from the continent to the UK, usually occurs during the passage of cyclonic and anticyclonic weather systems over Europe. Since cyclonic weather systems are always associated with rainy weather that efficiently scavenge air pollution, only anticyclonic weather systems passing in the the vicinity of the UK may be associated with air pollution transport that originates on the European continent.
“It should however be noted that due to the long distance travelled by the continental air masses, the air pollution levels are very much diluted in comparison to the regionally and locally emitted air pollutants.
“In addition to this, anticyclonic weather types are always associated with temperature inversions at low altitude that decouple the local emissions at low altitude from the continental pollution transport at a higher altitude. In other words the continental transport would remain above the inversion layer and would not be transported to the ground.
“These arguments explain why transport of air pollutants from the continent would not influence local air quality significantly.”