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London's Great Smog has lessons for modern Beijing


11:06, January 21, 2013

LONDON, Jan. 20 (Xinhua) -- Poor air quality in some cities of China, particularly in the capital Beijing, has hit international headlines and it is a problem which big cities in industrialized countries have repeatedly come up against for decades.

Beijingers suffered from heavy smog for days until Wednesday, when a cold front with wind dispersed it.

The air quality indices were off the charts during the days, exceeding the "maximum" level of 500 in the city, as well as many other cities in central and north China.

China can learn from the problems of air pollution which developed countries experienced and how those problems were tackled.

One of the most infamous smog incidents was in London in 1952. The Great Smog as it came to be called was recognized as bad immediately when it happened in December 1952, but it was several weeks before it was realized that it had killed 4,000 people.

Experts have since revised the death toll upwards to 12,000.

How did London get into that position and what did it do to tackle it?


Britain's industrial revolution had been fuelled by coal, but even before that time London had earned the nickname "The Smoke", which is still in use today.

Travellers to the city from the surrounding countryside could see a haze of smoke above the city from miles away, telling them they were getting closer to their destination.

When railways came and boosted the industrial revolution into overdrive, they too were powered by coal, and their suitability for carrying large amounts of raw materials -- like coal -- cheaply, reduced fuel prices and stimulated massive industrial growth.

London became famous in the Victorian era for its fogs, and most of these were heavily polluted. The Sherlock Holmes novels of Arthur Conan Doyle popularized the fogs, known as London Particular or pea soupers, and the murders of Jack the Ripper in London's East End are imagined in popular folklore to have taken place under cover of the fog and of darkness.

But the fogs were a far bigger killer than ever the Ripper was. In 1873 200 people died in a single week of fog, and in one week in 1880 the total was 2,000. By the end of the 19th century London had 90 days of fog each year.

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