Did you know that the Great Smog of London started in 1952 and lasted 4 days? A thick layer of smog blanketed the city, both indoor and outdoors. ‘Smog’ comes from the words ‘smoke’ and ‘fog’; it describes a mix of dust, soot, and other kinds of air pollution that form a visible haze. The Great Smog of London was so thick that you could only see about 1 meter away, even during the day time. The smog made 200,000 people sick and killed more than 10,000 people. The Great Smog showed the seriousness of air pollution and led to many changes and laws to clean up and improve air quality and the environment.
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The Great Smog lasted from December 5, 1952 to December 9, 1952. Initially, people were not alarmed, since ‘pea soup fogs’ were common occurrences. However, colder winter temperatures caused Londoners to burn more coal for heat. Homes and the surrounding coal-fired power plants used a low-grade coal that contained high amounts of sulfur and pollutants. An anti-cyclone caused a temperature inversion to settle over the area. Trapped by the inversion and windless weather, the levels of pollutants built up into the toxic and dense Great Smog. It is estimated that each day pollutant sources emitted 1000 tonnes of smoke particles, 140 tonnes of hydrochloric acid, 14 tonnes of fluorine compounds, 370 tonnes of Sulphur dioxide.
The pollution from the Great Smog even affected indoor air quality. At the height of the smog, theaters and concert venues had to cancel events because the smog hampered even indoor visibility.
The Great Smog was the worst air-pollution event in the history of the United Kingdom. During the event, it was recorded that only 4,000 people died from complications, such as respiratory issues. Deaths that occurred shortly after the Great Smog, were attributed to an influenza epidemic, but studies showed that only a fraction of those deaths were really caused by influenza. Most were caused by respiratory complications and infections. Later studies showed that possibly 12,000 fatalities could be linked to the Great Smog.
London has had issues with air pollution since the 13th century. The smog was sometimes called ‘pea soup fog’ in reference to the thick, cloying nature of the pollution. It was also called a ‘pea souper’, ‘London particular’, ‘London Fog’, ‘black fog’, or ‘killer fog’. The mixture of soot and sulfur dioxides made the smog thick and yellow or greenish.
A thick pea and ham soup became known as “London particular”.
Smog can contain nitrogen oxides, sulphur oxides, ozone, smoke and other particulate matter. The air pollution comes from industrial processes, coal combustion, vehicle exhaust, natural and man-made fire, and photochemical reactions (reactions that occur when chemical compounds in the smog react with sunlight).