December 1952 started very cold. London found itself covered in a thick freezing fog which was unable to disperse because of an overlying cap of warmer air. In those days most homes were heated by open fires, so faced with the intense cold and fog Londoners began to burn more coal than usual. Concentrations of pollutants produced by the low quality, high sulphur coal increased 10 fold. One air quality reading measured 1,000 tonnes of smoke particles, 2,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide, 140 tonnes of hydrochloric acid and 14 tonnes of fluorine compounds in London’s air. There was also 370 tonnes of sulphur dioxide which converted into 800 tonnes of sulphuric acid. The smoke and the fog combined to form Smog - a dense, yellow blanket that stank of rotten eggs and obscured light and ultimately life.
On Friday December 5th, with visibility dropping below 1 metre, cars and public transport stopped running and people, wheezing and coughing, had to grope their way through the streets. London was facing an environmental disaster the like of which they had never seen before. While higher parts of the city like Hampstead and Crystal Palace stood clear of the deadly miasma low lying areas like Richmond, Twickenham and St Margarets experienced its full horror. Local paper, “The Richmond Herald” reported;
- Continue reading Five Days in December originally published 12 February 2009