Research at Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry has formed part of the evidence base for the London Mayor, Sadiq Khan’s Ultra Low Emission Zone scheme, which was phased in from 2017. In 2016, Prof. Grigg from Queen Mary’s Blizard Institute co-founded the Doctors Against Diesel campaign, which has caused a loss in public confidence in diesel cars and a decrease in their sales.
The science: understanding the adverse effects of air pollution
Air pollution is one of the most significant public health burdens causing 40,000 premature deaths in adults. It also causes a wide range of adverse effects in children such as vulnerability to pneumonia, stunted lung growth and new cases of asthma. There is emerging evidence that air pollution also has effects on cognition throughout the life course.
Prof. Grigg’s research showed, for the first time, that the amount of carbon from inhaled fossil-fuel derived particles in the airways of healthy children is associated with reduced lung function. It has also showed that cyclists in London have an increased inhaled dose of fossil-fuel derived particulate matter and that airway cells in people with asthma have impaired ability to clear this particulate matter from the airways. This leads to exacerbations of the disease.
From 2008, Profs. Griffiths and Grigg led, with others including Kings College London, the evaluation of the impact of the London Low Emission Zone on primary children’s respiratory health, showing that air pollution stunted the growth of children’s lungs, accounting for between 5 and 10% restrictions in lung growth. By 2012 we found evidence of small improvements in air quality and lung development.
Putting research into action: impact on regulation of exhaust emissions
In October 2017, on the basis of research and recommendations by Queen Mary and other researchers, London’s Mayor, Sadiq Khan, introduced the Emissions Surcharge which was the first step in the roll out of the Ultra Low Emission Zone scheme in London from 8th April 2019. ‘Most vehicles including cars and vans will need to meet new, tighter exhaust emission standards (ULEZ standards) or pay a daily charge to travel within the area of the ULEZ.’
In 2016 Prof. Grigg founded the advocacy group called "Doctors against Diesel" which now has a membership of over 300 doctors. In 2017 we published in 2017 an open letter to the Prime Minister in the Times. She responded and the government has now committed to diesel discouragement policies in 2017. Since our ‘Doctors against diesel’ campaign and the government’s commitment to diesel discouragement policies there has been a major decrease in new diesel vehicle sales in 2017-8.