Facts About The Great Smog Of 1952: See Why It Was So Deadly | Kidadl


Facts About The Great Smog Of 1952: See Why It Was So Deadly

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Today, air pollution has become a matter of concern for people, but there was a time when this wasn’t the case.

Air quality of a place depends on a many factors. Some of those are the natural composition of air in that area, the number of pollutants released, the proximity of factories, urbanization and population.

With growing concerns around climate change and its long-term consequences, it becomes important to tackle the problem of air pollution. We can look at an example in history about the Great Smog of London, which was one of the deadliest environmental disaster. Read on to find out more about how you can do that!

Details About London’s Great Smog

Europe, but specifically the United Kingdom, has had a history of worsening air quality ever since the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century. There was a rapid rise in the number of factories set up in cities, along with population levels booming. The British capital was especially affected by this phenomenon.

In the winter months, the burning of coal was at an all-time high. This led to the release of various noxious gases, but most importantly, sulfur and nitrogen, too much of which can literally cause people to choke. In 1952, coal burning was so prevalent that sulfur saturated air was visible even to the naked eye, particularly so in early December due to the freezing temperatures. Moreover, the anticyclone weather conditions that made it impossible for warm, polluted air to escape upwards by inverting the presence of cold air, basically created a chamber full of sulphuric acid and other poisonous gases.

Visibility in those days was so low that all transport other than the London underground tube had to be canceled, causing major disruption to daily activities. The fog even seeped indoors, leading to the shutdown of theatres and other entertainment venues. It was reported that one could barely see even a few meters in front of them, having to shuffle along just to walk safely in public. Those who could buy it, started using 'smog masks' just to be able to see through the thick cloud.

The situation was so dire that not even ambulances could operate effectively, and people had to try and find their way to hospitals when they showed symptoms. Cars were abandoned on the road and people walked their way because it was safer than trying to navigate through almost zero-visibility conditions. Throughout all this, the extraordinary thing is that Londoners did not panic, not because they knew how to deal with it, but because they didn’t see anything wrong. This was surprising that despite the air quality index being so poor, the people were so unconcerned.

Health Effects

Due to the above-described circumstances, the people of London were depressingly used to thick smog, or what they called 'pea-soupers.' Therefore, they didn’t consider the events of early December to be any different. It was only after the smoke particles cleared out and data collected was studied that the real tragedy was outlined. In the immediate aftermath, 4000 deaths, mainly the very old and the very young as well as those with pre-existing health conditions, were recorded. However, with subsequent data findings, that number has been revised to over 12,000.

The situation affected people’s health conditions in many ways. Many people developed new health issues while worsening existing ones. One MP in the House of Commons argued that over 25,000 people claimed sickness benefits due to the smog.

For months following the event, respiratory tract infections were at an all-time high, with pus forming in the lungs due to blocked airways. Bronchopneumonia was also another common illness that was aggravated by the conditions.

The symptoms of smog can be remarkably similar to those seen in chain smokers, and this is something that’s seen in heavily polluted cities across the world even today. The worst affected are children and elderly, who cannot escape these circumstances even if they wish to due to the nature of air pollution.

Impact Of Pollution On Environment

The Great Smog of 1952 and its deadly consequences finally broke through to policymakers about the dangers of air pollution. This caused the UK Parliament to, after deliberation, pass the Clean Air Act that directly targeted the usage of cheap coal as a fuel (since it was the largest contributor to these conditions) by restricting the emission of 'dark smoke' as well as creating spaces that were supposed to be ‘smoke-free’ where smokeless fuels were to be used only. Additionally, power stations (that were responsible for the resultant fog in urban areas) were to be relocated to rural areas to minimize direct harm. Despite a number of measures being rolled out, the smog issue was not resolved immediately. There was some initial opposition to the act because high-quality coal, smokeless fuels, and gas fires were expensive, and relocation took a lot of resources that many factory owners didn’t want to spend. Besides that, changing the habits of people prevalent through centuries was not an easy task. With time and patience, however, the situation changed, and air quality became a relevant issue that was taken seriously.

In general, pollution of all kinds has a highly detrimental effect on the environment. Not only can it lead to health problems among people of all age groups, but it also affects flora and fauna, all of which are crucial to the existence of life on this planet.

Polluted environments don’t just lead to short-term problems, like developing respiratory illnesses, but also to long term ones-like forming holes in the ozone layer, which leads to global warming, which has a domino effect on everything else.

It is important, therefore, to be as quick and proactive as possible in doing our part to reduce pollution. There are two aspects to this, the individual and the corporation. While most pollution is caused by factors beyond individual control (like MNCs), there are still things we can do to help, like reducing plastic usage, recycling water wherever possible and investing in environment-friendly appliances.

Smog is a portmanteau of two words: smoke and fog!


Did Churchill ignore the fog?

There’s no evidence to suggest if this happened since most reports from the time focused on the aftermath of the smog itself rather than the politicians.

How many died in the 1952 London fog?

Records indicate that the dense fog directly led to at least 4000 deaths. However, in the months following, another 8000 deaths were recorded, bringing the total toll to 12,000.

Who was responsible for the Clean Air Act?

The government, after seeing the devastating effects of the smog and being pressured by MPs, passed this Act in 1956. It was jointly sponsored by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government in England and the Department for Health for Scotland.

What was the weather warning in 1952?

The weather warning on the day of the great smog was that of an incoming anticyclone, in which air is pressed downwards, creating warm air pockets, which exacerbated the conditions that led to such a deadly scenario.

Does London still get smog?

While it would be inaccurate to say London still gets the same kind of smog as it did earlier since industrial factory waste has changed over the decades. However, the city still has very high rate of air pollution today.

<p>With a wealth of international experience spanning Europe, Africa, North America, and the Middle East, Anusuya brings a unique perspective to her work as a Content Assistant and Content Updating Coordinator. She holds a law degree from India and has practiced law in India and Kuwait. Anusuya is a fan of rap music and enjoys a good cup of coffee in her free time. Currently, she is working on her novel, "Mr. Ivory Merchant".</p>

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