The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has launched what his office described as “the world’s largest air quality network” to help investigate and improve the quality of London’s “toxic” environment.

The new smart city initiative, Breathe London, will use a range of fixed and mobile sensors to build up a real-time, hyper-local image of air quality in the city.

One hundred fixed sensor pods will be mounted on lampposts and buildings close to known hot spots for poor air quality, along with locations such as schools and nurseries. These will augment the capital’s existing air quality sensor network, which is operated by the London boroughs and King’s College London.

Meanwhile, Google Earth Outreach has equipped two of its Street View cars with air quality sensors. These will take pollution readings every 30 metres while on the move around the city, building up a picture of London’s air quality over the course of a year, identifying toxic zones that the fixed sensors might miss.

“The data these monitors collect from across the capital will provide an unprecedented level of detail about London’s air quality crisis and deliver new insight into the sources of pollution,” said an announcement from the Mayor’s office.

The data will also be available for the public to view on an interactive map on the Breathe London website. This will show Londoners the condition of the air in real time, and allow more accurate pollution forecasting.

Children are one of the initiative’s key focuses. Breathe London is being delivered by a consortium led by the Environmental Defense Fund Europe (EDFE) and funded by the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF). The Mayor launched the project on 15 January at Charlotte Sharman Primary School in Southwark.

As well as hosting one of the new fixed monitors, the school was one of 50 involved in the Mayor’s air quality audits programme in 2018. Charlotte Sharman has received £10,000 to help implement air quality improvements, including the installation of a new ‘green wall’.

Breathe London itself was devised by the Greater London Authority in partnership with C40 Cities, a global alliance of cities committed to addressing climate change. Other partners include Air Monitors Ltd, Cambridge Environmental Research Consultants, the University of Cambridge, and the National Physical Laboratory.

Once the approach and technology have been proven in London, the goal is to see it introduced in cities around the world, said the Mayor.

“London’s filthy air is a public health crisis that leads to thousands of premature deaths in the capital every year, as well as stunting the development of young lungs and increasing cases of respiratory illness,” said Khan.

“An issue this large and complex requires bold and innovative action, so I’m proud that we’re leading the world in establishing this new monitoring network – allowing Londoners to see the levels of pollution at a local level. This real-time data will also help us learn more about London’s toxic air and help us to put the right policies in place to continue our clean-up efforts.

“As a recent Aether report demonstrated, these actions will benefit all Londoners, but particularly those living in the capital’s deprived areas. I hope the success of this scheme will act as a blueprint for cities around the world as they battle their own toxic air emergencies.”

Earlier this month, a survey of London borough councillors revealed a big majority in favour of using sensor data for environmental improvements and traffic management.

The survey, carried out by YouGov for the Greater London Authority, revealed overwhelming support – 94 percent of those polled – for using sensors to detect air pollution, with 90 percent supporting the use of sensors for measuring noise and light pollution from events or construction sites, and 84 per cent backing the monitoring of buildings’ energy consumption.

Breathe London will be followed in April by the launch of the world’s first Ultra Low Emission Zone in central London. As part of the scheme, vehicles will need to meet new, tighter exhaust emission standards or pay a daily charge (£12.50 for cars, vans and motorcycles, £100 for buses, coaches and lorries) to travel within the zone.

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