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The Great Smog of 1952
A fog so thick and polluted it left thousands dead wreaked havoc on London in 1952. The smoke-like pollution was so toxic it was even reported to have choked cows to death in the fields. It was so thick it brought road, air and ra
Smog had become a frequent part of London life, but nothing quite compared to the smoke-laden fog that shrouded the capital from Friday 5 December to Tuesday 9 December 1952. While it heavily affected the population of London, causing a huge death toll and inconveniencing millions of people, the people it affected were also partly to blame for the smog.
During the day on 5 December, the fog was not especially dense and generally possessed a dry, smoky character. When nightfall came, however, the fog thickened. Visibility dropped to a few metres. The following day, the sun was too low in the sky to burn the fog away. That night and on the Sunday and Monday nights, the fog again thickened. In many parts of London, it was impossible at night for pedestrians to find their way, even in familiar districts. In The Isle of Dogs area, the fog there was so thick people could not see their feet.



A history of smog
Britain has long been affected by mists and fogs, but these became much more severe after the onset of the Industrial Revolution in the late 1700s. Factories belched gases and huge numbers of particles into the atmosphere, which in themselves could be poisonous. The pollutants in the air, however, could also act as catalysts for fog, as water clings to the tiny particles to create polluted fog, or smog.
When some of the chemicals mix with water and air, they can turn into acid which can cause skin irritations, breathing problems, and even corrode buildings. Smog can be identified easily by its thick, foul-smelling, dirty-yellow or brown characteristics, totally different to the clean white fog in country areas.
There are reports of thick smog, smelling of coal tar, which blanketed London in December 1813. Lasting for several days, people claimed you could not see from one side of the street to the other. A similar fog in December 1873 saw the death rate across London rise 40% above normal. Marked increases in death rate occurred, too, after the notable fogs of January 1880, February 1882, December 1891, December 1892 and November 1948. The worst affected area of London was usually the East End, where the density of factories and homes was greater than almost anywhere else in the capital. The area was also low-lying, making it hard for fog to disperse.
How the smog of 1952 formed
The weather in November and early December 1952 had been very cold, with heavy snowfalls across the region. To keep warm, the people of London were burning large quantities of coal in their homes. Smoke was pouring from the chimneys of their houses.
Under normal conditions, smoke would rise into the atmosphere and disperse, but an anticyclone was hanging over the region. This pushes air downwards, warming it as it descends. This creates an inversion, where air close to the ground is cooler than the air higher above it. So when the warm smoke comes out of the chimney, it is trapped. The inversion of 1952 also trapped particles and gases emitted from factory chimneys in the London area, along with pollution which the winds from the east had brought from industrial areas on the continent.
Early on 5 December, in the London area, the sky was clear, winds were light and the air near the ground was moist. Accordingly, conditions were ideal for the formation of radiation fog. The sky was clear, so a net loss of long-wave radiation occurred and the ground cooled. When the moist air came into contact with the ground it cooled to its dew-point temperature and condensation occurred. Beneath the inversion of the anticyclone, the very light wind stirred the saturated air upwards to form a layer of fog 100-200 metres deep. Along with the water droplets of the fog, the atmosphere beneath the inversion contained the smoke from innumerable chimneys in the London area.
During the period of the fog, huge amounts of impurities were released into the atmosphere. On each day during the foggy period, the following pollutants were emitted: 1,000 tonnes of smoke particles, 2,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide, 140 tonnes of hydrochloric acid and 14 tonnes of fluorine compounds. In addition, and perhaps most dangerously, 370 tonnes of sulphur dioxide were converted into 800 tonnes of sulphuric acid.
Impacts of the smog
The fog finally cleared on December 9, but it had already taken a heavy toll.
  • About 4,000 people were known to have died as a result of the fog, but it could be many more.
  • Many people suffered from breathing problems
  • Press reports claimed cattle at Smithfield had been asphyxiated by the smog.
  • Travel was disrupted for days
Response to the smog
A series of laws were brought in to avoid a repeat of the situation. This included the Clean Air Acts of 1956 and 1968. These acts banned emissions of black smoke and decreed residents of urban areas and operators of factories must convert to smokeless fuels.
People were given time to adapt to the new rules, however, and fogs continued to be smoky for some time after the Act of 1956 was passed. In 1962, for example, 750 Londoners died as a result of a fog, but nothing on the scale of the 1952 Great Smog has ever occurred again. This kind of smog has now become a thing of the past, thanks partly to pollution legislation and also to modern developments, such as the widespread use of central heating.


The Great Smog of 1952
 

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RESOURCE LIBRARY | THIS DAY IN GEOGRAPHIC HISTORY
Dec 4, 1952 CE: Great Smog of 1952
On December 4, 1952, people in London, England, began to suffer respiratory illnesses after breathing thick smog.
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Great Smog

The "Great Smog" of 1952 blanketed London and was responsible for more than 4,000 deaths.

PHOTOGRAPH BY N. T. STOBBS, COURTESY WIKIMEDIA. THIS FILE IS LICENSED UNDER THE CREATIVE COMMONS ATTRIBUTION-SHARE ALIKE 2.0 GENERIC LICENSE.
Great Smog


BACKGROUND INFO VOCABULARY
On December 4, 1952, people in London, England, began to suffer respiratory illnesses after breathing thick smog. This deadly weather event, the Great Smog, would last almost a week and cost between 4,000-10,000 lives. Smog is a type of air pollution, created by industrial output and natural weather patterns. London’s reliance on coal-fired power plants for electricity and heat, and diesel-powered buses for public transportation, contributed to the Great Smog.

London’s physical geography and weather also contributed to the Great Smog. The city is contained a large river valley, limiting air circulation. In addition, a mass of cold air blanketed the region the night before, trapping the valley’s warmer air below. This warmer air was very high in pollution from homes, cars, and factories.

The Great Smog of 1952 caused the United Kingdom to enact stricter laws about air pollution. Many cities around the world have tried to limit how much pollution is in the air. However, smog is still a problem in cities such as Mexico City, Beijing, and Los Angeles.


Great Smog of 1952
 

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60 years since the great smog of London - in pictures
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On Friday 5 December 1952, a thick yellow smog brought the capital to a standstill for four days and is estimated to have killed more than 4,000 people. London's air may appear much cleaner today, but is still dangerously polluted. The coal pollution that caused the infamous 'pea soupers' has been replaced by invisible pollution – mainly from traffic fumes – resulting in 13,000 early deaths each year in the UK and 4,300 in London

Wed 5 Dec 2012 06.00 GMTFirst published on Wed 5 Dec 2012 06.00 GMT

  • A London Transport inspector holding a flare leads a bus out of the terminus at Aldgate East as dense fog blanketed London, causing widespread traffic chaos. The great smog stopped traffic and trains, theatres and cinemas closed because the audience could not see the stage, prize cattle died at Smithfield show at Earl's Court, and the undertakers ran out of coffins
    Photograph: PA
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    1952 smog crisis: Disasters and Accidents - 1952 London Smog

  • Morning traffic at Blackfriars, London, almost at a standstill because of the blanket smog. There had been smogs before, in every major conurbation. But London was the world's biggest city at the time and nearly all of its 8 million inhabitants used open coal fires. The blanket of cold air from the continent which became stationary over the capital caused the warm, smoke-laden air from homes and power stations to cool and fall back to Earth. It created a blanket of sulfurous smog so dense that visibility was less than half a metre
    Photograph: Don Price/Getty Images
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    1952 smog crisis: London Smog

  • Heavy smog in Piccadilly Circus, London. The government's policies were at least partly to blame. To maximise revenue the UK was exporting its clean coal and keeping the sulphur-laden 'dirty' coal for UK power stations and domestic fires. The result was a combination of soot laden air and droplets of sulphuric acid lying in a 200ft-deep blanket across London, leading to the worst smog ever recorded
    Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images
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    1952 smog crisis: Piccadilly Smog

  • A London bus conductor is forced to walk ahead of his vehicle to guide it through the smog. Government estimates are that 24,000 people a year had their lives shortened as a result of air pollution
    Photograph: Keystone/Getty Images
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    1952 smog crisis: Bus In Smog
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  • A tugboat on the Thames near Tower Bridge in heavy smog. The 'pea souper' brought about the first successful air pollution laws anywhere
    Photograph: Getty Images
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    1952 smog crisis: Smog On The Thames

  • Police using flames at Marble Arch to direct the traffic. The great smog was so thick people that could not see their feet. Some of the 4,000 who died in the five days it lasted did not suffer lung problems – they fell into the Thames and drowned because they could not see the river
    Photograph: Trinity Mirror/Alamy
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    1952 smog crisis: Police using flames at Marble Arch to direct the traffic

  • Fog in Victoria Street, Manchester
    Photograph: Tom Stuttard/Guardian
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    1952 smog crisis: Holiday fog in Victoria Street, Manchester

  • This Daily Mail picture was taken at sunset from the top of Westminster Cathedral in 1953. London faced another killer smog in 1953 after 48 hours of fog trapped the smoke belching from millions of London's chimney pots
    Photograph: Associated Newspapers / Rex Fea/Rex Features
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    1952 smog crisis: Smoke Pouring From Chimneys over London
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  • A group of City workers wearing masks against the heavy smog in London, 17 November 1953. The NHS scheme to issue smog masks came into operation as a thick, dirt-laden fog settled over many parts of Britain
    Photograph: Terry Fincher/Getty Images
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    1952 smog crisis: Smog Masks

  • 2 January 1954: Arsenal goalkeeper Jack Kelsey peers into the fog, searching for the elusive ball. The fog was so thick the game was eventually stopped. Legislation that followed the great smog of 1952 included the City of London (Various Powers) Act of 1954 and the Clean Air Acts of 1956 and 1968. These acts banned emissions of black smoke and decreed that residents of urban areas and operators of factories must convert to smokeless fuels
    Photograph: PA
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    1952 smog crisis: Soccer - League Division One - Arsenal v Aston Villa - Highbury

  • Flames direct the traffic at the junction of Aytoun and Whitworth Streets in Manchester, 24 November 1958
    Photograph: Guardian
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    1952 smog crisis: Flames to direct the traffic

  • 5 January 1956: A two-man smog investigation team sampling atmospheric pollution in foggy Hendon, north-west London. They are WH Warrender (left), with a carbon monoxide detector, and L Finkelstein, with a vapour detector kit - both from the Civil Defence. The men were among 450 volunteers scattered throughout various London boroughs who were taking part in the the biggest full-scale investigation into smog
    Photograph: PA
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    1952 smog crisis: OPERATION SMOG
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  • 12 November 1954. A woman reads a London borough of Holborn poster warning of fog
    Photograph: Getty Images
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    1952 smog crisis: Housewife reads a London borough of Holborn poster

  • Fog in Stretford, Greater Manchester, 24 November 1958
    Photograph: Guardian
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    1952 smog crisis: Fog in Stretford

  • Fog in Market Street, Manchester 23 November 1962. A thick layer of fog that had covered London for three days was beginning to spread all over the country. Leeds recorded its highest ever level of sulphur dioxide in the air and pneumonia cases in Glasgow trebled
    Photograph: Guardian
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    1952 smog crisis: Fog in Market Street, Manchester

  • November 1922: Fog at Ludgate Circus. London was often hidden under noxious fog called 'smog' from the first half of the 1800s onwards
    Photograph: Getty Images
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    1952 smog crisis: Fog at Ludgate Circus

60 years since the great smog of London - in pictures
 

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Great Smog of London

ENVIRONMENTAL DISASTER, ENGLAND, UNITED KINGDOM [1952]
WRITTEN BY:
LAST UPDATED: Sep 9, 2019 See Article History

Alternative Title: The Killer Fog of 1952

Great Smog of London, lethal smog that covered the city of London for five days (December 5–9) in 1952, caused by a combination of industrial pollution and high-pressure weather conditions. This combination of smoke and fog brought the city to a near standstill and resulted in thousands of deaths. Its consequences prompted the passing of the Clean Air Act four years later, which marked a turning point in the history of environmentalism.

Human action has triggered a vast cascade of environmental problems that now threaten the continued ability of both natural and human systems to flourish. Solving the critical environmental problems of global warming, water scarcity, pollution, and biodiversity loss are perhaps the greatest challenges of the 21st century. Will we rise to meet them?

The phenomenon of “London fog” long predated the crisis of the early 1950s. Known as “pea-soupers” for their dense, yellow appearance, such all-encompassing fogs had became a hallmark of London by the 19th century. But polluted fog was an issue in London as early as the 13th century, due to the burning of coal, and the situation only worsened as the city continued to expand. Complaints about smoke and pollution increased in the 1600s, when ultimately ineffective legislation was passed under King James I to restrict coal burning. Rapidly increasing industrialization that began in the late 1700s made conditions even worse.
These hazes were not natural formations of the atmosphere: water vapour would stick to particulates released by coal-burning factories, producing dark and heavy clouds that impaired visibility. This variety of fog later came to be known as smog (a merging of the words smoke and fog), a term invented by a Londoner in the early 20th century.

Air pollution reached a crisis in the 19th century with the spread of the Industrial Revolution and the rapid growth of the metropolis. The increase of domestic fires and factory furnaces meant that polluted emissions surged considerably. It was at this time that the fog-laden atmosphere of London portrayed vividly in the novels of Charles Dickens and Arthur Conan Doyle emerged. The fogs of London could last a week, and fog-related deaths were reported on gravestones in the early 19th century. Despite the deterioration of public health, little was done to check the smog, given the plethora of jobs that new industry provided and the comforts afforded by domestic coal fires.
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The Great Smog of 1952 was a pea-souper of unprecedented severity, induced by both weather and pollution. On the whole, during the 20th century, the fogs of London had become more infrequent, as factories began to migrate outside the city. However, on December 5, an anticyclone settled over London, a high-pressure weather system that caused an inversion whereby cold air was trapped below warm air higher up. Consequently, the emissions of factories and domestic fires could not be released into the atmosphere and remained trapped near ground level. The result was the worst pollution-based fog in the city’s history.

Visibility was so impaired in some parts of London that pedestrians were unable to see their own feet. Aside from the Underground, transportation was severely restricted. Ambulance services suffered, leaving people to find their own way to hospitals in the smog. Many people simply abandoned their cars on the road. Indoor plays and concerts were cancelled as audiences were unable to see the stage, and crime on the streets increased. There was a spike in deaths and hospitalizations relating to pneumonia and bronchitis, and herds of cattle in Smithfield reportedly choked to death. Though the fog lasted five days, finally lifting on December 9, its severity was not fully appreciated until the registrar general published the number of fatalities a few weeks later, which amounted to about 4,000. The effects of the smog were long-lasting, however, and present-day estimates rank the number of deaths to have been about 12,000.

After the events of 1952, the seriousness of London’s air pollution became undeniable. Slow to act at first, the British government ultimately passed the Clean Air Act four years later, in 1956, as a direct response to the lethal fog. The act established smoke-free areas throughout the city and restricted the burning of coal in domestic fires as well as in industrial furnaces. Moreover, homeowners were offered grants that would allow them to switch to different heating sources, such as oil, natural gas, and electricity. Though change was gradual and another smog crisis occurred in 1962, the Clean Air Act is generally considered a major event in the history of environmentalism, and it helped improve public health in Britain.

Julia Martinez

 

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History Stories



The Great Smog of 1952


UPDATED:AUG 22, 2018ORIGINAL:DEC 6, 2012The Great Smog of 1952
For five days in December 1952, the Great Smog of London smothered the city, wreaking havoc and killing thousands.
CHRISTOPHER KLEIN
The Great Smog Begins
Clear skies dawned over London on December 5, 1952. A wintry cold snap had gripped the British capital for weeks, and as Londoners awoke, coal fireplaces were stoked in homes and businesses across the city to take the chill from the early morning air.
As the day progressed, a veil of fog—not unusual in a city famous for its cool, misty weather—began to enshroud Big Ben, St. Paul’s Cathedral, London Bridge and other city landmarks.
Within a few hours, however, the fog began to turn a sickly shade of yellowish brown as it mixed with thousands of tons of soot pumped into the air by London’s factory smokestacks, chimneys and automobiles. Smoky, diesel-fueled buses had recently replaced the city’s electric tram system, adding to the toxic brew.
Nonetheless, Londoners went about their business with typical British reserve, ignoring the foul air as much as possible. But within a day, it became impossible to ignore the unfolding crisis.
London Fog Becomes London Smog
Fog, combined with smoke to produce smog, was nothing new in London, but this particular “pea souper” quickly thickened into a poisonous stew unlike anything the city had ever experienced.
A high-pressure weather system had stalled over southern England and caused a temperature inversion, in which a layer of warm air high above the surface trapped the stagnant, cold air at ground level.
The temperature inversion prevented London’s sulfurous coal smoke from rising, and with nary a breeze to be found, there was no wind to disperse the soot-laden smog. The noxious, 30-mile-wide air mass, teeming with acrid sulfur particles, reeked like rotten eggs—and it was getting worse every day.

The Big Smoke Settles In
The smog was so dense that residents in some sections of the city were unable to see their feet as they walked. For five days, the Great Smog paralyzed London and crippled all transportation, except for the London Underground train system.
Because of poor visibility, boat traffic on the River Thames came to a halt. Flights were grounded and trains cancelled. Even during the middle of the day, drivers turned on their headlights and hanged their heads out car windows to inch ahead through the thick gloom. Many found the effort futile and simply abandoned their cars.
Conductors holding flashlights walked in front of London’s iconic double-decker buses to guide drivers down city streets. Wheezing pedestrians groped their way around the city’s neighborhoods and tried not to slip on the greasy black ooze that coated sidewalks. By the time they returned home, their faces and nostrils blackened by the air, Londoners resembled coal miners.
hith-london-smog-police


Getty Images
Authorities advised parents to keep their children home from school, partly from fear they would get lost in the blinding smog. Looting, burglaries and purse snatchings increased as emboldened criminals easily vanished into the darkness.
Weekend soccer games were cancelled, although Oxford and Cambridge carried on with their annual cross-country competition at Wimbledon Common with the help of track marshals who continually shouted, “This way, this way, Oxford and Cambridge” as runners materialized out of the thick haze.

The smog seeped inside buildings as well. A greasy grime covered exposed surfaces, and movie theaters closed as the yellow haze made it impossible for ticket-holders to see the screen.
Health Effects of the Great Smog
The Great Smog of 1952 was much more than a nuisance. It was lethal, particularly for the elderly, young children and those with respiratory problems. Heavy smokers were especially vulnerable because of their already-impaired lungs, and smoking was common at the time, especially among men.
It wasn’t until undertakers began to run out of coffins and florists out of bouquets that the deadly impact of the Great Smog was realized. Deaths from bronchitis and pneumonia increased more than sevenfold. The death rate in London’s East End increased ninefold.
Initial reports estimated that about 4,000 died prematurely in the immediate aftermath of the smog.
The detrimental effects lingered, however, and death rates remained well above normal into the summer of 1953. Many experts now estimate the Great Smog claimed at least 8,000 lives, and perhaps as many as 12,000.
The effects of the Big Smoke weren’t limited to people: Birds lost in the fog crashed into buildings. Eleven prize heifers brought to Earls Court for the famed Smithfield Show choked to death, and breeders fashioned improvised gas masks for their cattle by soaking grain sacks in whiskey.
After five days of living in a sulfurous hell, the Great Smog finally lifted on December 9, when a brisk wind from the west swept the toxic cloud away from London and out to the North Sea.
Aftermath of the Big Smoke
Initially, the British government was slow to act during the Great Smog. Heavy fog was, after all, a common occurrence in London and there was, according to most reports, no immediate sense of urgency to this smog event.
Following a government investigation, however, Parliament passed the Clean Air Act of 1956, which restricted the burning of coal in urban areas and authorized local councils to set up smoke-free zones. Homeowners received grants to convert from coal to alternative heating systems.
The transition away from coal as the city’s primary heating source toward gas, oil and electricity took years, and during that time deadly fogs periodically occurred, such as one that killed about 750 people in 1962. None of them, however, approached the scale of the 1952 Great Smog.

TAGSLONDONBRITISH HISTORY


The Great Smog of 1952
 

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History Stories



The Great Smog of 1952


UPDATED: AUG 22, 2018 ORIGINAL :
DEC 6, 2012
The Great Smog of 1952
For five days in December 1952, the Great Smog of London smothered the city, wreaking havoc and killing thousands.

CHRISTOPHER KLEIN


The Great Smog Begins
Clear skies dawned over London on December 5, 1952. A wintry cold snap had gripped the British capital for weeks, and as Londoners awoke, coal fireplaces were stoked in homes and businesses across the city to take the chill from the early morning air.
As the day progressed, a veil of fog—not unusual in a city famous for its cool, misty weather—began to enshroud Big Ben, St. Paul’s Cathedral, London Bridge and other city landmarks.
Within a few hours, however, the fog began to turn a sickly shade of yellowish brown as it mixed with thousands of tons of soot pumped into the air by London’s factory smokestacks, chimneys and automobiles. Smoky, diesel-fueled buses had recently replaced the city’s electric tram system, adding to the toxic brew.
Nonetheless, Londoners went about their business with typical British reserve, ignoring the foul air as much as possible. But within a day, it became impossible to ignore the unfolding crisis.


London Fog Becomes London Smog
Fog, combined with smoke to produce smog, was nothing new in London, but this particular “pea souper” quickly thickened into a poisonous stew unlike anything the city had ever experienced.
A high-pressure weather system had stalled over southern England and caused a temperature inversion, in which a layer of warm air high above the surface trapped the stagnant, cold air at ground level.
The temperature inversion prevented London’s sulfurous coal smoke from rising, and with nary a breeze to be found, there was no wind to disperse the soot-laden smog. The noxious, 30-mile-wide air mass, teeming with acrid sulfur particles, reeked like rotten eggs—and it was getting worse every day.


The Big Smoke Settles In
The smog was so dense that residents in some sections of the city were unable to see their feet as they walked. For five days, the Great Smog paralyzed London and crippled all transportation, except for the London Underground train system.
Because of poor visibility, boat traffic on the River Thames came to a halt. Flights were grounded and trains cancelled. Even during the middle of the day, drivers turned on their headlights and hanged their heads out car windows to inch ahead through the thick gloom. Many found the effort futile and simply abandoned their cars.
Conductors holding flashlights walked in front of London’s iconic double-decker buses to guide drivers down city streets. Wheezing pedestrians groped their way around the city’s neighborhoods and tried not to slip on the greasy black ooze that coated sidewalks. By the time they returned home, their faces and nostrils blackened by the air, Londoners resembled coal miners.

hith-london-smog-police


Getty Images


Authorities advised parents to keep their children home from school, partly from fear they would get lost in the blinding smog. Looting, burglaries and purse snatchings increased as emboldened criminals easily vanished into the darkness.
Weekend soccer games were cancelled, although Oxford and Cambridge carried on with their annual cross-country competition at Wimbledon Common with the help of track marshals who continually shouted, “This way, this way, Oxford and Cambridge” as runners materialized out of the thick haze.

The smog seeped inside buildings as well. A greasy grime covered exposed surfaces, and movie theaters closed as the yellow haze made it impossible for ticket-holders to see the screen.


Health Effects of the Great Smog
The Great Smog of 1952 was much more than a nuisance. It was lethal, particularly for the elderly, young children and those with respiratory problems. Heavy smokers were especially vulnerable because of their already-impaired lungs, and smoking was common at the time, especially among men.
It wasn’t until undertakers began to run out of coffins and florists out of bouquets that the deadly impact of the Great Smog was realized. Deaths from bronchitis and pneumonia increased more than sevenfold. The death rate in London’s East End increased ninefold.
Initial reports estimated that about 4,000 died prematurely in the immediate aftermath of the smog.
The detrimental effects lingered, however, and death rates remained well above normal into the summer of 1953. Many experts now estimate the Great Smog claimed at least 8,000 lives, and perhaps as many as 12,000.
The effects of the Big Smoke weren’t limited to people: Birds lost in the fog crashed into buildings. Eleven prize heifers brought to Earls Court for the famed Smithfield Show choked to death, and breeders fashioned improvised gas masks for their cattle by soaking grain sacks in whiskey.
After five days of living in a sulfurous hell, the Great Smog finally lifted on December 9, when a brisk wind from the west swept the toxic cloud away from London and out to the North Sea.


Aftermath of the Big Smoke
Initially, the British government was slow to act during the Great Smog. Heavy fog was, after all, a common occurrence in London and there was, according to most reports, no immediate sense of urgency to this smog event.
Following a government investigation, however, Parliament passed the Clean Air Act of 1956, which restricted the burning of coal in urban areas and authorized local councils to set up smoke-free zones. Homeowners received grants to convert from coal to alternative heating systems.
The transition away from coal as the city’s primary heating source toward gas, oil and electricity took years, and during that time deadly fogs periodically occurred, such as one that killed about 750 people in 1962. None of them, however, approached the scale of the 1952 Great Smog.

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The Great Smog of 1952
 
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Great Smog of London
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Great Smog of London
Casualties
Nelson's Column during the Great Smog of 1952.jpg
Nelson's Column during the Great Smog
Date5–9 December 1952
LocationLondon, England
Coordinates
51.507°N 0.127°WCoordinates:
51.507°N 0.127°W
up to 12,000 dead[1][2]
100,000 medical conditions[citation needed]


The Great Smog of London, or Great Smog of 1952, was a severe air-pollution event that affected the British capital of London in early December 1952. A period of cold weather, combined with an anticyclone and windless conditions, collected airborne pollutants—mostly arising from the use of coal—to form a thick layer of smog over the city. It lasted from Friday 5 December to Tuesday 9 December 1952, and then dispersed quickly when the weather changed.
It caused major disruption by reducing visibility and even penetrating indoor areas, far more severely than previous smog events experienced in the past, called "pea-soupers". Government medical reports in the following weeks, however, estimated that up until 8 December, 4,000 people had died as a direct result of the smog and 100,000 more were made ill by the smog's effects on the human respiratory tract.[citation needed] More recent research suggests that the total number of fatalities may have been considerably greater, one paper suggesting about 6,000 more died in the following months as a result of the event.[3]
London had suffered since the 13th century from poor air quality,[4] which worsened in the 1600s,[5][6] but the Great Smog is known to be the worst air-pollution event in the history of the United Kingdom,[7] and the most significant in terms of its effect on environmental research, government regulation, and public awareness of the relationship between air quality and health.[3][5] It led to several changes in practices and regulations, including the Clean Air Act 1956.


Contents
Background

Sources of pollution

Battersea Power Station in 1938


The cold weather preceding and during the Great Smog led Londoners to burn more coal than usual to keep themselves warm. Post-war domestic coal tended to be of a relatively low-grade, sulfurous variety (similar to lignite coal), while conversely, better-quality "hard" coals (such as anthracite coal) tended to be exported, which increased the amount of sulfur dioxide in the smoke. There were also numerous coal-fired power stations in the Greater London area, including Fulham, Battersea, Bankside, Greenwich and Kingston upon Thames, all of which added to the pollution. According to the UK's Met Office, the following pollutants were emitted each day during the smoggy period: 1,000 tonnes of smoke particles, 140 tonnes of hydrochloric acid, 14 tonnes of fluorine compounds, and 370 tonnes of sulfur dioxide which may have been converted to 800 tonnes of sulfuric acid.[8]
Research suggests that additional pollution-prevention systems fitted at Battersea may have worsened the air quality. Flue-gas washing reduced the temperature of the flue-gases so they did not rise but instead slumped to ground level causing a local nuisance.[9] Additionally, there was pollution and smoke from vehicle exhaust—particularly from steam locomotives and diesel-fuelled buses, which had replaced the recently abandoned electric tram system – and from other industrial and commercial sources.[10]


Weather
On 4 December 1952, an anticyclone settled over a windless London, causing a temperature inversion with cold, stagnant air trapped under a layer (or "lid") of warm air.[11][12] The resultant fog, mixed with smoke from home and industrial chimneys, particulates such as those from motor vehicle exhausts, and other pollutants such as sulfur dioxide, formed a persistent smog, which blanketed the capital the following day. The presence of tarry particles of soot gave the smog its yellow-black color hence the nickname "pea-souper".[10] The absence of significant wind prevented its dispersal and allowed an unprecedented accumulation of pollutants.[citation needed]


Effects
Effect on London
Although London was accustomed to heavy fogs, this one was denser and longer-lasting than any previous fog.[13] Visibility was reduced to a few meters ("It's like you were blind"[14]) making driving difficult or impossible.
Public transport ceased, apart from the London Underground, and the ambulance service stopped, forcing users to transport themselves to hospital. The smog was so dense that it even seeped indoors, resulting in cancellation or abandonment of concerts and film screenings as visibility decreased in large enclosed spaces, and stages and screens became harder to see from the seats.[15] Outdoor sports events were also cancelled.[citation needed]
In the inner London suburbs and away from town centers, there was no disturbance by moving traffic to thin out the dense fog in the back streets. The result was that visibility could be down to a meter or so in the daytime. Walking out of doors became a matter of shuffling one's feet to feel for potential obstacles such as road curbs. This was made even worse at night since each back street lamp at the time was fitted with an incandescent light-bulb, which gave no penetrating light onto the pavement for pedestrians to see their feet, or even the lamp post. Fog-penetrating fluorescent lamps did not become widely available until later in the 1950s. "Smog masks" were worn by those who were able to purchase them from chemists.[citation needed]
Near railway lines, on which "fog working" was implemented, loud explosions similar to a shotgun shot were common. The explosions were made by "detonators" – a form of large percussion cap placed on the track and activated by the wheels of trains. These devices were placed by certain signals to provide an audible warning to match the visual indication provided by the signal for the driver.[citation needed]


Health effects
There was no panic, as London was infamous for its fog. In the weeks that ensued, however, statistics compiled by medical services found that the fog had killed 4,000 people.[16] Most of the victims were very young or elderly, or had pre-existing respiratory problems. In February 1953, Marcus Lipton suggested in the House of Commons that the fog had caused 6,000 deaths and that 25,000 more people had claimed sickness benefits in London during that period.[17]
Mortality remained elevated for months after the fog. A preliminary report, never finalized, blamed those deaths on an influenza epidemic.[3] Emerging evidence revealed that only a fraction of the deaths could be from influenza.[18] Most of the deaths were caused by respiratory tract infections, from hypoxia and as a result of mechanical obstruction of the air passages by pus arising from lung infections caused by the smog.[19][20][21] The lung infections were mainly bronchopneumonia or acute purulent bronchitis superimposed upon chronic bronchitis.[22][23]
More recent research suggests that the number of fatalities was considerably greater than contemporary estimates, at about 12,000.[3][24]


Environmental impact
The death toll formed an important impetus to modern environmentalism, and it caused a rethinking of air pollution, as the smog had demonstrated its lethal potential. New regulations were implemented, restricting the use of dirty fuels in industry and banning black smoke.[citation needed]
Environmental legislation since 1952, such as the City of London (Various Powers) Act 1954 and the Clean Air Acts of 1956 and 1968, led to a reduction in air pollution. Financial incentives were offered to householders to replace open coal fires with alternatives (such as installing gas fires), or for those who preferred, to burn coke instead which produces minimal smoke. Central heating (using gas, electricity, oil or permitted solid fuel) was rare in most dwellings at that time, not finding favor until the late 1960s onwards. Despite improvements, insufficient progress had been made to prevent one further smog event approximately ten years later, in early December 1962.[25]


Cause
Atmospheric scientists at Texas A&M University investigating the haze of polluted air in Beijing realized that their research led to a possible cause for the London event in 1952. "By examining conditions in China and experimenting in a lab, the scientists suggest that a combination of weather patterns and chemistry could have caused London fog to turn into a haze of concentrated sulfuric acid."[26]
Even though research findings point in this direction, the two events are not identical. In China, the combination of nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide, both produced by burning coal, with a humid atmosphere, created sulfates while building up acidic conditions that, left unchanged, would have stalled the reaction. However, ammonia from agricultural activity neutralized the acid allowing sulfate production to continue.[citation needed]
It is theorized that in 1952 in London, the nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide combined with fog rather than humidity; larger droplets of water diluted the acid products, allowing more sulfate production as sulfuric acid. Sunrise burned off the fog, leaving concentrated acid droplets that killed citizens.[citation needed]
See also


Great Smog of London - Wikipedia
 

cat

Senior Billi
So, many more deaths than from Germans bombing London, about 12 years before.


Health effects
There was no panic, as London was infamous for its fog. In the weeks that ensued, however, statistics compiled by medical services found that the fog had killed 4,000 people.[16] Most of the victims were very young or elderly, or had pre-existing respiratory problems. In February 1953, Marcus Lipton suggested in the House of Commons that the fog had caused 6,000 deaths and that 25,000 more people had claimed sickness benefits in London during that period.[17]
Mortality remained elevated for months after the fog. A preliminary report, never finalized, blamed those deaths on an influenza epidemic.[3] Emerging evidence revealed that only a fraction of the deaths could be from influenza.[18] Most of the deaths were caused by respiratory tract infections, from hypoxia and as a result of mechanical obstruction of the air passages by pus arising from lung infections caused by the smog.[19][20][21] The lung infections were mainly bronchopneumonia or acute purulent bronchitis superimposed upon chronic bronchitis.[22][23]
More recent research suggests that the number of fatalities was considerably greater than contemporary estimates, at about 12,000.[3][24]
 
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