Cleaning London's air

Every child in London is breathing toxic air, mainly caused by polluting road vehicles. Together with the Mayor, Sadiq Khan, we are committed to helping Londoners breathe cleaner air.

We are doing this by introducing the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) in central London, cleaning up our bus fleet and taxis, and supporting small businesses and charities to switch to cleaner vehicles.

As Londoners, we all have a role to play in improving our city's air quality. By 2041 we want 80% of trips in London to be made on foot, by cycling or by public transport. 

This is a big task, but we can all do our bit by making small changes to the way we travel.

London's air quality - how bad is it?

The volume of road traffic in London makes it one of the most polluted places in the UK - an estimated 5.8 million journeys are made by car every day.

  • More than 2 million Londoners, including 400,000 children, live in areas which exceed current air pollution limits
  • Over 450 London state schools are in areas with dangerously high air pollution levels

Air pollution contributes to the early deaths of thousands of Londoners every year, with an economic cost to the capital of around £3.7bn a year.

Air quality myth #1

Myth: Only central London is affected by air pollution

FACT: Pollution affects every borough in the city, not just central London

Air quality myth #2

Myth: Road vehicles aren't the main cause of London's air pollution

FACT: Driving polluting vehicles is the single biggest cause, contributing to around half of the air pollution in London

Professor Stephen Holgate, Special Adviser from the Royal College of Physicians, is an expert on London's air pollution. Listen as he and LBC's Nick Ferrari discuss its impact on our health and how people can help improve air quality in the capital.

What we're doing

Vehicles

Healthier streets

What you can do to help

If you can leave the car at home, try these alternatives for a cleaner journey:

If you do need to drive, then consider these options:

  • Join a car club - Car clubs provide a cost-effective and flexible alternative to owning a car
  • Go electric - Electric cars have zero exhaust emissions. Get more information about electric and plug-in hybrids on the Go Ultra Low website
  • Think about how you drive - Turn off your engine when you're parked or waiting in traffic for long periods and drive as smoothly as possible

Consider these tips with your next online shop:

  • When getting home deliveries or shopping online, consider getting all your packages sent in one shipment and picking a green option for your delivery slot
  • Consider collecting your parcel from a nearby store rather than having it delivered, and walk to collect your parcel rather than drive

Sign up for TfL marketing emails which will include updates on air quality in London.

Air quality myth #3

Myth: You don't need to switch off a car engine when stationary

FACT: Research shows that turning off the engine significantly reduces pollution levels in the surrounding area

Air quality myth #4

Myth: You can always see when air pollution is bad in London

FACT: Most airborne toxins are invisible to the naked eye

How road transport harms our air

Every time we drive, our petrol and diesel cars produce pollutants which can reach deep into the body and cause lasting damage:

  • Nitrogen oxides - gases in the air including nitrogen oxide (NO) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) - come mostly from road transport
  • Particulate matter is a mixture of very small particles in the air. Particles from road vehicles include carbon emitted from engines and small bits of metal and rubber from engine wear and braking

Find out more about these pollutants on the Breathe London website.

It hurts to breathe

High levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in the air can:

  • Cause shortness of breath and coughing because it irritates the throat and lungs
  • Reduce our natural protection from lung infections and make pre-existing conditions such as asthma worse

The small particles emitted by road vehicles can pass through the nose and throat and settle deep in the lungs. Some particles are so tiny that they get in the bloodstream and be carried around the body.

Both short and long-term exposure to this particulate matter can:

  • Increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases
  • Shorten life expectancy

Children are vulnerable

Young children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of air pollution because it can stunt their lung growth. Research shows that children growing up in heavily polluted streets have a smaller lung capacity than those in cleaner areas - on average by 5% - and this can't be reversed.

In pregnant women, pollutants can pass from mother to baby across the placenta. Air pollution is also linked to low birth weight.

Exercising outdoors

The benefits of walking or cycling generally outweigh the risks from air pollution for most people who don't suffer from heart or lung problems - so enjoy outdoor activities except when pollution levels are high.

Sign up for free air quality alerts on the airTEXT website.