Yesterday, and most likely today as well, air quality in London will have triggered a 'Very High' alert. This is bad news for anyone with lungs, and particularly bad for anyone with breathing difficulties.
Adults and children with lung problems, adults with heart problems, and older people, should avoid strenuous physical activity. People with asthma may find they need to use their reliever inhaler more often.
Reduce physical exertion, particularly outdoors, especially if you experience symptoms such as cough or sore throat.
The Mayor headed to Twitter to warn everybody who follows him.
Warnings were issued at bus stops, on roadside signs and at tube stations, although I will confess I missed all of them. I caught a bus, and saw nothing, and rode on a couple of trains, and saw/heard nothing either. Maybe I wasn't looking properly, or more likely I was unlucky with the journeys I made, Whatever, I missed it.
I wonder how many drivers, and potential drivers, noticed and/or acted on that advice. And they'd have been wise to. All the evidence suggests that polluting gases and particulates are worst alongside major roads, indeed if I value my health I should probably move away from the Bow Roundabout at the earliest opportunity.
On this occasion major news outlets gave high priority to news articles about the high levels of pollution , so I learnt about the alert from the BBC, and adapted my behaviour to cut back on roadside aerobic activity. But I wondered - and this is a genuine question - what is the best way to find out about air pollution in your immediate locality?
I have the 'London Air' app on my phone, powered by data from King's College, which ought to do the job. It ranks the air pollution at various points around the capital on a scale from 0 to 10, with 0-3 being normal, and 10 being what we're enduring right now. Previously I had the app set up to notify me about one site near work and two near home, but both of the Lea Valley sites blanked out a while back and no longer seem to report at all, so it's no longer especially useful.
The associated 'London Air' website is packed with pages and features, including a regularly-updated map showing a pollution score at various sites across London. I don't remember seeing it this bad before.
But zoom in and it turns out the data is only available at certain clustered spots. Central London is well covered, but (for example) Newham, Hackney and Waltham Forest have nothing, and Tower Hamlets has only one site at an unrepresentative point north of the Blackwall Tunnel. In a city of eight million people, this is hardly ideal.
Other pages on the website include a pollution 'Nowcast', which (as I write) suggests that everywhere inside the M25 is at a uniformly high level. There's also a written 'Forecast', which is up-to-date and splendidly informative about conditions today and tomorrow. There are numerous background pages with advice on how to reduce potential health damage regarding how you travel and where you live. And there's a summary map which shows average air pollution levels in 2013 where you can zoom in and see whether your street is more dangerous than a few streets back. Try not to live in inner London or close to a dual carriageway, appears to be the message.
The Mayor mentioned another website, airtext.info, in his flurry of pollution-related tweets.
This has a more basic set-up, which at a high level is less confusing. At time of writing this too is suggesting a uniform risk within the M25, apart from a bubble around Heathrow Terminals 2 and 3 which is presumably plane related. It (currently) differs in its assessment of Tuesday's risk, having decided on Moderate rather than London Air's Very High. As well as offering text alerts to your phone it also has its own app - maybe I should give that a try.
Or there's the government's official air pollution site, specifically DEFRA's, whose data is impressively up-to-date. This has a overall map (pictured below), as well as a simpler regional map which is (currently) suggesting London's at maximum risk, which isn't what the other websites are saying. There's also an interactive map covering individual sites across the entire country, but again it gives East London a wide berth. Apparently we do have a monitoring site on the Mile End Road but it isn't working, or there isn't any data from it, or something. If you live nearer one of the functional sites, you may find this level of information quite useful.
Anyway, I hope that some of this air quality information might be useful to you, some of the time, depending. It also begs the question of whether there's anything better I could be using, and whether there's any better way of being alerted when conditions locally get bad.
Overall, however, it turns out that I could hardly be living anywhere worse than on the A11 very close to the A12, which means I'm shortening my life expectancy on a daily basis simply by inhaling. If only there was some way of cutting the pollution in the air, maybe by reducing vehicle use or replacing engines, or by not building massive road schemes in the first place. I'm not holding my breath.