POLLUTION IN EAST AND SOUTH EAST LONDON 24 YEARS AGO
I thought that - given the current debate on pollution - that it might be of interest to look back and see where we were 24 years ago.
This is a report of a Conference held by Docklands Forum. The Forum covered most of east London (technically they covered the Docklands regeneration area set up in the 1970s by the GLC which covered parts of Greenwich and Lewisham as well as what became the Docklands development area)
So - attendees and speakers came from all over the area - and we included a big pack of comments and responses from community groups from all around (sorry - I no longer have a copy of that)
- a few key points about the early 1990s
- site remediation was still not always undertaken then, and there were many very dodgy sites. The Thatcher Government had effectively stopped any research although local authorities were often trying to draw up contaminated sites registers. (I remember looking at the LDDC's sites register in disbelief!!)
- air quality was clearly a big issue. Some authorities - notably Greenwich and Southwark - were building extensive monitoring networks and encouraging research by their EHOs. But remember there was no 'on line' then.
- lead based air pollution was a big issue in parts of Tower Hamlets. By 1994 this was based around the Murdoch print works but in years before that all school children were blood tested around the Island Lead Works.
- power stations and powered recycling plants were an issue with many planned. I remember a big conference about this in Dartford. But my memory of dates is getting a bit hazy.
So - some you will remember this conference - and some of you were there. So please comment.
I think it is possible that a final page is missing. This is entirely my fault as in 1994 I was responsible for putting the set of papers together!! (sorry!)
POLLUTION, FROM LEGACY TO SUSTAINABILITY
The pollution problems of East London will not be eradicated overnight. However, there is no doubt that this conference raised the profile of the stresses on East London's environment and the quality of life of its communities whilst providing a forum for discussion of the issues and prospective solutions.
The Conference held in mid-October on the 29th floor of Guy's Hospital Tower set an ambitious but realistic agenda with over fifty organisations directly participating through oral or written presentations. The involvement of statutory agencies, those in the business of government, community and environmental organisations acted as a timely reminder that the pollution issues of greatest concern have social, economic and environmental ramifications, the impact of which is common to us all.
The Conference's proceedings are currently being incorporated into a publication. In due course a synopsis of the pollution issues identified, their impact and identified realistic solutions will be presented at a Ministerial meeting. What follows is a short review of the salient issues discussed.
1.0 The Common Agenda
The Conference had a common agenda, the issues of which are complex and interlinked. To progress that agenda the Forum sought to establish consensus amongst an ever increasing number of stakeholders on what issues should be included, what action should be taken, by whom, and over what timescale. The outcome of this Conference must pass the test of realism, especially in political terms, as most of the issues we are concerned with are 90% politics and only 10% science and technology. The residual scientific and technological uncertainties will take a long time to resolve, so we must progress in the face of that uncertainty.
To wait for the resolution of all scientific and technological problems would almost certainly be counter productive. We must adopt a precautionary approach to all pollution issues which we do not fully understand.
2.0 Industrial Legacy
Like most major western cities, prevailing winds have always determined where 'bad neighbour industries' would be located. Being 'downwind', East London became the depository for large industry including the largest gasworks site in the world.
Given that the quality of land is intimately bound up with its past it should be of no surprise that land contamination in East London is widespread. However, before health and environmental concerns over contaminated land began to be reflected in new legislation, East London experienced tremendous pressure for land development, as a consequence of both the Government's commitment to preserving the Green Belt and regenerating Docklands. Landowners and large industries were only too keen to exploit their resources in the boom years and unsurprisingly, a significant number of these sites were acquired and redeveloped, many for housing.
It is crucial that a full assessment of the significance of land contamination is carried out on existing or proposed development sites suspected of being contaminated.
Where land contamination is identified, and where levels exceed the 'upper trigger concentrations', remedial action is required and should be undertaken immediately.
Costs of remedial measures such as landfill could be anything up to £1 million to remove one metre of soil depth over 1 acre. Notwithstanding some legal recourse to the 'polluter pays principle' (notably statutory agencies taking remedial steps where pollution has already occurred and subsequently recovering the cost from those responsible), this can not successfully be achieved where those responsible have long 'disappeared' and where the current owner wasn't aware and has no money. This leaves the dilemma of who should pay, the tax-payer or the customer? If neither the tax-payer nor the customer pays then the local community continues to suffer.
Quite clearly reclamation costs prohibit development of many contaminated inner city sites and this is where the financial assistance of English Partnerships can be considered. English Partnerships (the Urban Regeneration Agency) currently has an initial budget of £250 million for regenerating areas of need in England, through reclamation and development of land, including the treatment of contaminated land. It is interesting to note that the sum for England is approxamately equivalent to the sum for Wales but half that for Scotland.
East London (Inner Thames Gateway) requires a comprehensive land contamination reclamation strategy and accordingly requires an English Partnership package that can call upon sufficient funds.
2.1 Integrated Pollution Control
Many of the worst pollutants, those which can do most harm if mishandled or those hardest to dispose of safely, are industrial materials and by-products. Industrial processes with the greatest pollution potential come under Integrated Pollution Control (lPC) which is regulated by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Pollution (HMlP).
IPC is a medium and a legal basis which takes a holistic approach to ensure that any substances from industry which are released to the environment are directed to the medium to which they will cause the minimum damage be it to air, water or land .
Crucial to IPC is the principle that companies should use the 'best available techniques not entailing excessive cost' (BA TNEEC). The Chemical Industry (who are the highest spenders on pollution control equipment) foresee the time when the proactive state of today will become the statutory norm and the 'NEEC' of 'BA TNEEC' will become irrelevant. IPC embodies the precautionary principle and requires operators to use the BATNEEC to achieve the 'best practicable environmental option' (BPEO). Through IPC, HMIP regulates industrial releases through 'authorisations', industrial licences which permit operations of certain processes and their environmental consequence for a fee.
IPC was seen to be impeccable in theory but rather challenging in practice in so far as the regime will not be totally up and running until 1996 and has only had eight successful prosecutions since 1991, with five pending.
Prevention is better than cure and HMIP should have a greater obligation to press for the best technology of the today to be used to ensure that the environment of tomorrow is protected to the best of our ability.
The Government should formulate and establish, as soon as possible, the promised UK Environmental Protection Agency. Without this body we will never have a true system of Integrated Pollution Control.
2.2 The Printing Industry
Docklands has the largest concentration of newspaper printworks in Europe. Whilst many different pollutants are produced in the printing processes polluting air, land or water, the three major priority printing pollutants are:
- Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) in wash-up products (e.g, white spirit);
- screen printing reclamation products; and
- flexographic inks.
In particular, there is great international concern over VOCs for four reasons:
- some of them are toxic or carcinogenic;
- some of them contribute to stratospheric Ozone depletion;
- most of them make an indirect contribution to global warming;
- most of them contribute, in varying degrees, to the formation of ground level Ozone.
The UK (along with all other EU countries) is committed to a 30% reduction in VOCs
emissions between 1988 and 1999 and the printing industry is a major player.
VOC alternatives in wash-up have been on the market for almost a decade. In fact vegetable oils (Vas) have now been used in numerous countries including the US, Japan, Denmark and Germany for some time now. The 'Daily Express' printers in Manchester use mainly VOs for wash-up purposes which minimise the direct health risks to workers as well as reducing the contribution to ground level Ozone, global warming and the destruction of the Ozone layer. There should be no excuse why East London continues to be exposed to vac emmssions from the printwork industry when there are acceptable pollution free alternatives on the market.
Newspaper printworks in Docklands should immediately begin replacing their wash-up Volatile Organic Compounds with Vegetable Oils along the lines of the Daily Express works in Manchester.
All major companies and organisations in East London (e.g, hospitals, educational establishments etc.) should be assisted by relevant authorities (DoE, HMIP, etc) to develop 'Life Cycle Analyses' of their goods and services in order to consider the localised and wider implications of their use of specific materials such as VOCs.
2.3 Industry and Community
Quite clearly, industry cannot exist in isolation and community cannot ignore the need for industry and the economic wealth it can bring. There is irrevocable inter-dependence.
Companies in East London should follow the example set by Pura Foods, and formulate environmental policies which reflect their responsibilities to the environment and to society at large.
3.0 Water Pollution
Water, necessary for life itself, is also a natural resource of environmental, economic and social importance. It therefore needs to be protected and managed. The driving force for monitoring, understanding and controlling water quality is a concern for both the environment and human health.
The National Rivers Authority (NRA) has the direct responsibility for maintaining the quality of water in both rivers and underground aquifers. To achieve this the NRA controls all discharges to watercourses by means of discharge consents. Conditions are attached to consents which relate to the volume and type of discharge and the quality standard of that discharge.
In London, natural climatic circumstances also generate pollution incidents. Notably at times of high rainfall the capacity of London's Victorian sewerage system becomes inadequate and the Thames receives a large polluting load from storm overflows as well as the discharge from sewage works on the river.
London requires its sewerage system to be upgraded to eliminate storm overflow problems (at current prices the cost is estimated at £0.5 billion).
Despite the NRAs planning and pollution prevention work, the risk of pollution from both accidents and deliberate unconsented discharges is still phenomenally high and as a consequence water quality in many rivers has declined in recent years.
Although prosecutions are on the increase (over 400 in 1993/94), catching polluters and successfully prosecuting them is not always accomplished and when it is, fines are often too lenient.
The severity of pollution incidents must be reflected in fines.
4.0 Air Quality
Air pollution is a non-specific term for a complex cocktail of chemicals produced directly by vehicles and industrial plants, 'primary pollutants', as well as those produced by the primary pollutants in combination with sunlight, 'secondary pollutants'.
The main air pollutants of concern in London include: Sulphur Dioxide; particulates; Carbon Monoxide; Nitrogen Oxides; VOCs; and photo-chemical smog (Ozone).
4.1 Air Quality Management
Local authorities have long recognised that they have an important part to play in improving air quality. With the demise of GLC support, research initiatives have became fragmented. However, an increasing number of authorities, with support from the ALA, LBA and SEIPH, are now striving to improve air quality in a more structured way by adopting a local air quality management system. The scheme is being implemented by the London Air Quality Network (LAQN) and contains three major components:
- emission inventories;
- pollution dispersion modelling.
LAQN currently receives funding from the Regional Health Authorities. Its funding of £80,000 compares poorly with the £1.2 million available for Paris.
The London Air Quality Network is underfunded and requires greater commitment from Government.
A sufficiently robust set of national air quality standards should be in place which should be enforceable at local levels. It should not be necessary for local authorities to set their own targets.
5.0 Road Transport Toxic Emissions
Road transport is a substantial source of toxic emissions, some of which are major factors in local air pollution. In London, the contribution of road transport to total emissions is higher than the average for the UK as a whole, as this is largely due to the sheer concentration of road traffic.
The average Londoner breathes about 230 million litres of air during a life-time. It would be reckless to assume that such vast consumption of air could have no effect on our health!
There is definitive evidence that air pollution is associated with long term increases in mortality. Epidemiological studies have suggested, for example, that traffic pollution probably killed up to 160 Londoners in less than a week of foggy weather during December 1991 when cold static weather trapped air pollutants.
5.1 PM10 and particulates
Black smoke in London, which includes the smallest particles known as PM10 (those of less than 10 microns in diameter), can reach the deepest recesses of the lungs and is strongly associated with increased ill health and respiratory infections.
96% of black smoke is now derived from road traffic, with 80% of that being derived from diesel engines. For many years diesel was wrongly heralded as a 'green fuel' with the consequence that diesel engine vehicles have made a significant penetration into the UK market.
It is very difficult and expensive to eliminate or clean up PM10 particles from diesel exhausts. Any solution to eradicate the significant threats to London's air quality posed by PM10 will be dependent upon decreasing the attractiveness of cars, taxis, buses and lorries which run on diesel.
The Government should promote the use of alternative vehicle fuel. In London, taxis and buses are major PM10 polluters, but the technology enabling them to run on gas, for example as they do in Japan, which is infinitely safer for human health is available.
There should be discouragement of the use of diesel through legislation (it was totally wrongly heralded as a 'green fuel') and tighter VOC controls for petrol pumps and vehicles).
There should be financial incentives to persuade vehicle owners to have catalytic converters fitted where possible in order to remove primary pollutants.
Diesel engines incompletely combust fuel, producing a combination of particulate matter and polynuclear aromatic carbons which are already acknowledged as carcinogenic. Measures to tackle diesel pollution lag well behind those already being introduced for petrol pollution. In London, for example, heavy goods vehicles produce the majority of airborne particulate matter, hence the pollution situation no doubt will be worsened by the recent announced demise of the London Lorry Ban.
The London Lorry ban should be reinstated.
A wide variety of devices exist to trap PMIO. Diesel vehicles, especially lorries, should
be fitted with them.
5.2 Asthma in London
Asthma rates in East London are 80% above national rates, with Tower Hamlets having the single highest borough rates. Rates of asthma amongst children are particularly alarmingly with, for example 17% of all 8 year olds in Newham suffering from the illness. As only the most severe cases go to hospital current data only reflects the tip of the iceberg.
Data of respiratory problems, especially asthma, treated by GPs should be routinely available and monitored.
More generally, asthma levels have significantly increased in the last fifteen years with the consequence that hospital admissions, consultations and prescriptions for anti-asthmatic drugs have more than doubled in that period. The estimated cost to the nation in 1994 has been calculated to be close to £1 billion.
Whilst some of this increase may be due to more accurate diagnoses of asthma there is now substantial evidence linking asthma with air pollution both at epidemiological and population
level. Air pollution also affects other vulnerable groups, such as those with chronic bronchitis and emphysema, the elderly, and the very young, including unborn children. The total number of Londoners in vulnerable groups at risk from air pollution exceeds one million.
There should be a recognised network promoting awareness and working to reduce environmental hazards.
Guy's Hospital experienced a 1000% increase in admissions for bronchial and asthmatic complaints during the pollution episode of June 1994. This reinforces the fact that South East London can not afford to lose Guy's Accident and Emergency unit
The current Government plans to close Guy's Hospital should be scrapped and Guy's Hospital Campaign to establish an asthma centre should be given full Government support.
Comprehensive air quality monitoring in London does not exist, as yet, exist. There are only three monitoring sites in London which meet EU standards
Little of the monitoring undertaken by local authorities, the Warren Springs Laboratory (recently liquidated by the DTI), and the DoE, little complies with EC directives because the range of sites they monitor are predominately 'urban background pollution' sites as opposed to 'canyon like streets' such as busy intersections.
The Government should ensure that existing monitoring sites should be upgraded wherever possible to conform to EU standards.
That future monitoring equipment be located at sites that record the true values of pollution (e.g. curbside locations).
Failure to measure highest concentrations of pollutants at the roadside in London renders air quality data disjointed and incoherent which in turn reduces our understanding of how relatively short time exposure to high concentrations of 'pollution cocktails' provokes the deterioration in our health.
Air quality monitoring should be made a statutory requirement for local authorities.
Clearly there is scope for further selective, properly targeted, DoE funded exercises in monitoring.
Further research is specifically required to assess the 'cocktail effect' on health.
The Government should assist in the setting up of a regional pollution monitoring network which will continuously monitor air pollutants and meterological conditions. This should require automatic data transfer from monitoring sites to council offices.
Data is only worth collecting if London has a statutory authority/government mechanism in place to know what to do with them. Currently London has neither.
5.4 Recent East London Initiatives
Southwark's £250,000 European Life Project has secured a continuous curb side monitoring station and has pioneered the use of the 'Denver FEAT' system to identify passing vehicles causing gross pollution on the Old Kent Road. Through infra-red and computer technology Southwark has been able to identify approximately 25 'smog hogs' per hour, but require police cooperation to stop and inform.
Local authorities require the introduction of new powers to deal effectively with smoking vehicles on the road at a local level, without requiring the assistance of the police.
Local authorities should have the power to issue fines (nationally set) and legally require the vehicle owner to have the vehicle checked at an MOT testing station.
The London Boroughs of Greenwich and Tower Hamlets along with the South East Institute of Public Health are currently undertaking research to establish the influence of air pollution on the respiratory health of school children in the north and south Thames Region. Currently three schools in each Borough are involved, but the project can only last one year due to the insifficient funding.
The Government should closely monitor the progress of such research and ensure that additional funds are made available to enable it to continue.
The Livesey, Southwark's children's museum has created and 'Air Aware' exhibition aimed at raising awareness amongst children. The exhibition takes an interactive look at air from an all encompassing viewpoint and embraces themes such as weather, wind energy, respiratory problems and air pollution.
User friendly exhibitions directed at children of school age are an important element in the education of the next generation. Such exhibitions should be funded by the Departments of Health, Education and Environment.
The London Guildhall University has launched a new Environmental Centre for London to provide quality training and consultancy to business and industry in the areas of environmental management, environmental policy formulation and environmnetal enterprise.
5.5 Transport Energy
The London Energy Study (undertaken by LRC) has identified that in London 37% of all car journeys are under 2.2 miles, but use approximately 0.5% of the total energy used in the EC. Road transport consumes 26% of the total amount of energy used in London.
There should be positive encouragement of less environmentally damaging modes of transport which either make little demand on energy and do not pollute (walking and cycling) or make less demands on energy and pollute less (various forms of public transport).
5.6 Pollution alerts and quality of information
When pollution is likely to reach dangerous levels, information should be passed on to local and national media in order that those vulnerable to pollution can receive clear advice about what they should do. The current freephone DOE air quality service (0800 ) does not provide an adequate user-friendly service.
Current DoE protocol of defining air quality as "very good", "good", "poor" or "very poor" is totally inadequate and does not reflect World Health Organisation graduation standards.
The DoE must re-evaluate their use of such crude definitions and favour more 'user- friendly' indexes with a greater number of gradations which are capable of clarifying pollution episodes to a greater extent.
The main thrust of pollution alert advice should be directed at those causing the problem, not those suffering the consequences.
There should be legal powers to control traffic during pollution episodes.
The Departments of Health, Transport and the Environment should encourage the national media and local broadcasting systems (e.g, Cable TV) to carry regular reports on air quality .
5.7 East London's Roads Jeopardy
Aside from vast tracts of contaminated land, East London suffers from 'motorway type' roads slicing through boroughs taking commuters daily to and from the City, leaving behind its noise and exhaust emissions.
The launch of the 'Thames Gateway' (formally the East Thames Corridor) initiative outlining the Government's commitment to economic regeneration coupled with environmental enhancement should be based on sustainable transport policies which favour developments such as the Woolwich Rail Crossing and relegate, for good, the unacceptable and unsustainable notion that East London requires further major road transport developments.
To guarantee a long-term improvement in East London's air quality it is vital that London develops and implements a rational coherent integrated public transport strategy.
Encouraging more vehicles means more pollution, therefore all means available should be used to curb traffic growth in East London, if not decrease it.
There has to be a clear shift from the 'Roads Programme' towards the public transport programme.
There should be clear legislative incentives to persuade motorists to avoid using their cars especially on pollution alert days.
5.8 Heliport Threat
Helicopters are the noisiest form of transport known. Unlike fixed wing aircraft, helicopters are far more disruptive because of the long duration and type of sound they produce: a 'blade slap' sound which intensifies as the helicopter takes off and lands.
The current proposal for a floating 'aircraft carrier' on the Thames which could facilitate up to 22,000 helicopter movements p.a. should be vigorously opposed. Instead the River Thames should be promoted for river bus services.
5.9 London's Public Transport
Much of London's public transport is old, in poor condition with declining standards. Through the spending of 50% more on trunk roads and motorways over the last eight years, the Government has continued to starve London's public transport of the money needed to improve services. Government expenditure on British Rail has been cut by 25% and spending on London Transport remains woefully inadequate.
This year: - investment in Network SouthEast will amount to an estimated £250 million, compared to
the £475 million needed;