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Environment

‘Stop Killing Londoners’: Anti-Pollution Activists Shut Down Busy Road During Rush Hour

Bad coffee, slow walking, attempts at conversation on public transport.

Daily irritations like these are sure to get furiously stuck in the back of a Londoner's throat.

But the city’s patience was pushed back to its narrow limits on Tuesday evening, as a familiar foe was thrust once more upon it: bad traffic. But perhaps you should save your shouting — the jam was designed to protect your lungs, not aggravate them.

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Anti-pollution activists blocked Marylebone Road, near Baker Street, during rush hour. Peaceful protesters unfurled a huge red banner, blocking cars from passing. It’s the second time in two days that the group, called Stop Killing Londoners, have staged such a demonstration. Seven were arrested on Monday after a similar protest took place at Tower Bridge.

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The group was aiming to draw attention to Britain’s growing air pollution crisis. Across the UK, people in at least 44 towns and cities are exposed to air regarded by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as being too dangerous to breathe, containing particles that can cause heart disease and premature death.

According to a report released by the Royal College of Physicians, London is one of the worst offenders. There are 802 schools located in highly polluted areas in the capital, as well as a high proportion of the city’s hospitals and clinics, “potentially putting some of society’s most vulnerable at risk.”  

A report released in February last year suggested that air pollution causes 40,000 premature deaths a year. Poor air quality is also responsible, the report claims, for over 6 million sick days a year, and an estimated total social cost of £22.6 billion annually.

The UK has pledged to ban all petrol and diesel cars by 2040 as part of a £3 billion plan to tackle air pollution, but some have claimed that progress is too slow. London Mayor Sadiq Khan triggered the city’s emergency air quality alert in September for the seventh time in 13 months — an indication that toxic pollution has reached dangerously high levels. Khan has called for a ban on wood-burning stoves and introduced air quality audits across London’s most polluted schools, but argues that it’s the government’s responsibility to do more.

“I am doing everything with the powers I have at City Hall,” Khan said. “It’s now time for the government to step up by introducing a national diesel scrappage fund to rid our streets of dirty diesels, and to give me the powers I need to tackle non-transport sources of pollution.”

Read More: UK Will Ban All New Petrol and Diesel Cars by 2040

Stop Killing Londoners were due to stage a mock funeral march on Wednesday, but postponed the demonstration due to a serious injury sustained in a taxi incident in Covent Garden. According to the activists’ social media, they have declared this week to be a week of action — so more disruption can be expected.

“We will continue our actions until Sadiq Khan agrees to meet with us to seriously discuss the crisis and respond to our demands,” the group stated on its Facebook page. “In the meantime campaigners will be prepared to get arrested and go to prison to show politicians that we can wait no longer to get drastic action on this national health emergency.”