Fifty Years Later: Clearing the Air over the London Smog. (NIEHS News)

By Dooley, Erin E. | Environmental Health Perspectives, December 2002 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Fifty Years Later: Clearing the Air over the London Smog. (NIEHS News)

Dooley, Erin E., Environmental Health Perspectives

Between 5 December and 9 December 1952, one of the deadliest recorded episodes of urban smog occurred in London, England. New research indicates that as many as 12,000 people may have died as a result of the smog, and morality from respiratory illnesses such as bronchitis and pneumonia increased more than seven-fold during the smog. Overall death rates during the first half of that month were three times higher than normal, and morbidity and mortality rates in greater London remained elevated well into March of 1953.

The severity of the 1952 London Smog, along with the publicity surrounding it and other smog episodes in the early twentieth century, had two effects. First, they sparked an increased public health effort to understand the effects of air pollution on human health. Second, they prompted the formulation of governmental regulations on air pollution in many countries. This milestone event in the history of environmental health will be commemorated at the conference "The Big Smoke: Fifty Years after the 1952 London Smog," cosponsored by the NIEHS along with the Health Effects Institute, the Wellcome Trust, the Greater London Authority, the London borough of Camden, Sypol (a British environmental health and safety consulting group), the Shell Foundation, and the International Society for Environmental Epidemiology. Organized by Tony Fletcher and Virginia Berridge, professors of environmental epidemiology and history, respectively, at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the conference will be held 9-10 December 2002 at the University of London.

Programs will include historical perspectives of the 1952 London Smog and of air pollution in London in general. London had experienced smog events since the twelfth century, when coal was discovered along England's northeast coast and became the fuel of choice. But such events increased during and after the Industrial Revolution as both manufacturing and the population--both then dependent on burning large amounts of coal--expanded dramatically in the city.

For much of November 1952, temperatures in southern England were unusually low, causing people to heavily stoke their coal-burning home furnaces to keep warm. In the first days of December, high atmospheric pressure over the area caused an inversion that trapped soot and other air pollutants near ground level. Because of the smog, visibility in some areas of central London was reduced to nearly zero for 48 hours. Measurements taken at the time revealed that during that first week of December 370 metric tons of sulfur dioxide were released into the air, where it was converted into sulfuric acid. Large amounts of particulate matter also were released.

One seminar at the conference will bring together physicians, researchers, and others who remember the 1952 smog to present their eyewitness accounts of the event. These accounts will eventually be compiled into a book by historians at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Other presentations will discuss the health impacts of the 1952 smog and the public health response.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Fifty Years Later: Clearing the Air over the London Smog. (NIEHS News)


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?