London’s Air Pollution Is a Public Health Crisis Hiding in Plain Sight

AMV BBDO’s air quality check visualizes poor air quality’s impact on the city

The dangers of air pollution are projected on buildings to illustrate scale of problem.
Central Office for Public Interest

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When people think of polluted air, what first comes to mind is smog-soaked skyscrapers or billowing wildfire smoke. But those images only account for the most extreme forms of air pollution. Many people are living in places with an unhealthy quality of air—and they don’t even realize it.

A new citizen-funded campaign from London’s Central Office of Public Interest (COPI) and AMV BBDO aims to show Londoners just how dangerous the air around the city can be. King’s College London is taking data from any address in the city and providing an immediate air quality check for free at addresspollution.org. The site then redirects to localized resources, including direct links to local councils and members of parliament for people to demand action. Additionally, COPI will hand-deliver petitions to put further pressure on decision-makers locally and throughout the country.

“Many people don’t learn about air pollution levels and the health consequences until after they have suffered its effects,” said Frank Kelly, a professor of environmental health at King’s College London. “With an air quality rating for every house in the country using the latest data provided by King’s, this will enable the public to [better] understand the air quality at their own front door and equip them with an understanding of how best to improve their local air quality.”

The check reads the air quality at the location, rates it on a scale of one to five, and provides the health and financial risks associated with air quality at that level.

To bring this campaign off the web and into the London areas that are impacted by poor air, the group set up projectors that highlight especially dangerous areas of the city. The air pollution isn’t always noticeable to the naked eye, so people assume the air is cleaner than it actually may be.

Take Park Modern, for example. On the border of tony Kensington Gardens, a prospective buyer might assume the park’s gorgeous trees would help protect them from air pollution. But when King’s College actually ran the data, they found that Park Modern scored a five on the test, meaning that the rate of nitrogen dioxide was actually double the legal level. Now, the college is removing any obscurity by projecting that rating right on the side of the building.

Other areas of London with five ratings on the scale—which comes with a 33% increase in disease-related mortality—include Chelsea, Westminster and London Fields, some of the trendiest areas of the city. These upscale districts with poor air are the focus of new billboards with titles like “Location, Location, Lung Disease” and “These houses cost an arm, a leg and a lung.”

What’s more, the ratings could have a significant impact on the value of homes in the most polluted areas. The campaigns study shows that in Chelsea, for example, home prices could drop by more than £200,000 (around $250,000), while property in Islington, in London’s north, could be crunched by almost £150,000 (about $186,000).

“Air pollution is killing people across the country, and London is worst hit—but people don’t believe it will affect them personally,” said Humphrey Miles, founder of the Central Office of Public Interest. “The air quality rating is a tool to change these perceptions and show just how real and dangerous air pollution is across the capital, including in some of the wealthiest neighborhoods.”