The GREAT SMOG OF LONDON, or GREAT SMOG OF 1952 sometimes called the
BIG SMOKE, was a severe air-pollution event that affected the British
London in December 1952. A period of cold weather, combined
with an anticyclone and windless conditions, collected airborne
pollutants – mostly arising from the use of coal – to form a thick
layer of smog over the city. It lasted from Friday, 5 December to
Tuesday, 9 December 1952 and then dispersed quickly when the weather
It caused major disruption by reducing visibility and even
penetrating indoor areas, far more severe than previous smog events
experienced in the past, called "pea-soupers ". Government medical
reports in the following weeks, however, estimated that up until 8
December, 4,000 people had died as a direct result of the smog and
100,000 more were made ill by the smog's effects on the human
respiratory tract . More recent research suggests that the total
number of fatalities was considerably greater, about 12,000.
London had suffered since the 1200s from poor air quality, which
worsened in the 1600s, but the Great
Smog is known to be the worst
air-pollution event in the history of the United Kingdom, and the
most significant in terms of its effect on environmental research,
government regulation, and public awareness of the relationship
between air quality and health. It led to several changes in
practices and regulations, including the
Clean Air Act 1956 .
* 1 Background
* 1.1 Sources of pollution
* 1.2 Weather
* 2 Effects
* 2.1 Effect on
* 2.2 Health effects
* 2.3 Environmental impact
* 3 Cause
* 4 In popular culture
* 5 See also
* 6 References
* 7 Further reading
* 8 External links
SOURCES OF POLLUTION
Battersea Power Station , pictured in 2012
The cold weather preceding and during the Great
Smog led Londoners to
burn more coal than usual to keep warm. Post-war domestic coal tended
to be of a relatively low-grade, sulphurous variety (economic
necessity meant that better-quality "hard" coals tended to be
exported), which increased the amount of sulphur dioxide in the smoke.
There were also numerous coal-fired power stations in the Greater
London area, including Fulham , Battersea , Bankside , Greenwich and
Kingston upon Thames , all of which added to the pollution. According
to the UK's
Met Office , the following pollutants were emitted each
day during the smoggy period: 1,000 tonnes of smoke particles, 140
tonnes of hydrochloric acid, 14 tonnes of fluorine compounds, and 370
tonnes of sulphur dioxide which may have been converted to 800 tonnes
of sulphuric acid.
Research suggests that additional pollution-prevention systems fitted
at Battersea may have worsened the air quality, reducing the output of
soot at the cost of increased sulphur dioxide, though this is not
certain. Additionally, there was pollution and smoke from vehicle
exhaust – particularly from steam locomotives and diesel-fuelled
buses, which had replaced the recently abandoned electric tram system
– and from other industrial and commercial sources.
On 4 December 1952, an anticyclone settled over a windless London,
causing a temperature inversion with cold, stagnant air trapped under
a layer (or "lid") of warm air. The resultant fog, mixed with
chimney smoke, particulates such as those from vehicle exhausts, and
other pollutants such as sulphur dioxide, formed a persistent smog,
which blanketed the capital the following day. The presence of tarry
particles of soot gave the smog its yellow-black colour, hence the
nickname "pea-souper" . The absence of significant wind prevented its
dispersal and allowed an unprecedented accumulation of pollutants.
EFFECT ON LONDON
London was accustomed to heavy fogs , this one was denser
and longer-lasting than any previous fog. Visibility was reduced to a
few metres ("It's like you were blind" ) making driving difficult or
Public transport ceased, apart from the
London Underground , and the
ambulance service stopped functioning, forcing users to transport
themselves to hospital. The smog even seeped indoors, resulting in the
cancellation or abandonment of concerts and film screenings as
visibility decreased in large enclosed spaces, and stages and screens
became harder to see from the seats. Outdoor sports events were also
In the inner
London suburbs and away from town centres there was no
disturbance by moving traffic to thin out the dense fog in the back
streets. The result was that visibility could be down to a metre or so
in the daytime. Walking out of doors became a matter of shuffling
one's feet to feel for potential obstacles such as road kerbs. This
was made even worse at night since each back street lamp at the time
was fitted with an incandescent light-bulb, which gave no penetrating
light onto the pavement for pedestrians to see their feet, or even the
lamp post. Fog-penetrating fluorescent lamps did not become widely
available until later on in the 1950s. "
Smog masks" were worn by those
who were able to purchase them from chemists.
Near railway lines, on which "fog working" was implemented, loud
explosions similar to the report of a shotgun were a common feature.
The explosions were made by "detonators " – a form of large
percussion cap placed on the track and activated by the wheels of
trains. These devices were placed by certain signals to provide an
audible warning to match the visual indication provided by the signal
for the driver.
There was no panic, as
London was renowned for its fog. In the weeks
that ensued, however, statistics compiled by medical services found
that the fog had killed 4,000 people. Most of the victims were very
young or elderly, or had pre-existing respiratory problems. In
February 1953, Lieutenant-Colonel Lipton suggested in the House of
Commons that the fog had caused 6,000 deaths and that 25,000 more
people had claimed sickness benefits in
London during that period.
Mortality remained elevated for months after the fog. A preliminary
report, never finalised, blamed the ongoing deaths on an influenza
epidemic. Emerging evidence revealed that only a fraction of the
deaths could be from influenza. Most of the deaths were caused by
respiratory tract infections, from hypoxia and as a result of
mechanical obstruction of the air passages by pus arising from lung
infections caused by the smog. The lung infections were mainly
bronchopneumonia or acute purulent bronchitis superimposed upon
chronic bronchitis .
More recent research suggests that the number of fatalities was
considerably greater than contemporary estimates, at about 12,000.
The death toll formed an important impetus to modern
environmentalism, and it caused a rethinking of air pollution, as the
smog had demonstrated its lethal potential. New regulations were
implemented, restricting the use of dirty fuels in industry and
banning black smoke.
Environmental legislation since 1952, such as the City of London
(Various Powers) Act 1954 and the Clean Air Acts of 1956 and 1968, led
to a reduction in air pollution. Financial incentives were offered to
householders to replace open coal fires with alternatives (such as
installing gas fires), or for those who preferred, to burn coke
instead which produces minimal smoke. Central heating (using gas,
electricity, oil or permitted solid fuel) was rare in most dwellings
at that time, not finding favour until the late 1960s onwards. Despite
improvements, insufficient progress had been made to prevent one
further smog event approximately ten years later, in early December
Atmospheric scientists at Texas A">
It is theorized that in 1952 in London, the nitrogen dioxide and
sulfur dioxide combined with fog rather than humidity; larger droplets
of water diluted the acid products, allowing more sulfate production
as sulfuric acid. Sunrise burned off the fog, leaving concentrated
acid droplets which killed citizens.
IN POPULAR CULTURE
Smog served as the basis of an episode titled "Forog" of
The Goon Show (series 5, episode 13), which aired on 21 December 1954.
It was a central plot line in season 1, episode 4 of the Netflix
series The Crown (released in November 2016).
It also features prominently in Dominion , an alternate history novel
C. J. Sansom .
1930 Meuse Valley fog
1939 St. Louis smog
1948 Donora smog
1966 New York City smog
2013 Harbin smog
2013 Shanghai smog
London low emission zone
Environmental racism in Europe
* ^ Davis, DL; Bell, ML; Fletcher, T (2002). "A look back at the
London smog of 1952 and the half century since" . Environmental Health
Perspectives. 110: A734–5. PMC 1241116 . PMID 12501843 . doi
* ^ A B C D Bell, M.L.; Davis, D.L. January): 6–8. PMC 1241789
. PMID 14698923 . doi :10.1289/ehp.6539 . CS1 maint: Uses authors
parameter (link )
* ^ Brimblecombe, Peter (1976). "Attitudes and Responses Towards
Air Pollution in Medieval England". Journal of the Air Pollution
Control Association. 26 (10): 941–45. doi
* ^ A B Evelyn, John; Pegge, Samuel, 1704–1796, (ed.) (1661),
Fumifugium, Printed by W. Godbid, retrieved 5 May 2016 CS1 maint:
Multiple names: authors list (link )CS1 maint: Extra text: authors
list (link )
* ^ Graunt, John, 1620–1674; Petty, William, Sir, 1623–1687
(1662), Natural and political observations mentioned in a following
index, and made upon the bills of mortality / by John Graunt ... ;
with reference to the government, religion, trade, growth, ayre,
diseases, and the several changes of the said city, Printed by Tho.
Roycroft for John Martin, James Allestry, and Tho. Dicas
* ^ McKie, Robin & Townsend, Mark. Great
Smog is history, but foul
air still kills (The Observer, 24 November 2002).
* ^ "The Great
Smog of 1952". metoffice.gov.uk. Retrieved 12
* ^ A B Mason, Nigel; Hughes, Peter; Mc Mllan, Randall.
Introduction to environmental physics (CRC, 2001), pp. 112–13.
* ^ "Atmosphere, Climate & Environment Information Programme".
Ace.mmu.ac.uk. 4 December 1952. Retrieved 30 June 2010.
* ^ "
Met Office Education: Teens – Case Studies – The Great
Smog". Metoffice.gov.uk. Retrieved 30 June 2010.
* ^ Greater
London Authority. 50 Years On: The struggle for air
London since the great smog of December 1952.
* ^ Nielson, John. "The Killer Fog of \'52". NPR. Retrieved 14
* ^ "
London fog clears after days of chaos". bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 7
* ^ "The Great
Smog of 1952". metoffice.gov.uk. Retrieved 17 August
* ^ "Coal: Nutty slack". Commons Sitting of 16 February 1953.
* ^ Davis DL. 2002. When Smoke Ran Like Water. New York:Basic
* ^ Peters, Annette ; Döring, Angela ; Wichmann, H-Erich ; Koenig,
Wolfgang (1997) 'Increased plasma viscosity during an air pollution
episode: a link to mortality?' The Lancet, 1997, Vol. 349 (9065), pp.
* ^ Hunt, Andrew; Abraham, Jerrold L; Judson, Bret; Berry, Colin L
(2003). "'Toxicologic and epidemiologic clues from the
characterization of the 1952
London smog fine particulate matter in
archival autopsy lung tissues'". Environmental Health Perspectives.
111 (9): 1209–14. doi :10.1289/ehp.6114 .
* ^ Bell ML, Davis D. 2001. Reassessment of the lethal
of 1952: novel indicators of acute and chronic consequences of acute
exposure to air pollution. Environ Health Perspect 109(suppl
* ^ Camps, Francis E (Ed.) (1976). Gradwohl's Legal Medicine
(Bristol: John Wright Abraham, Jerrold L.; Judson, Bret; Berry, Colin
L. (2003). "Toxicologic and Epidemiologic Clues from the
Characterization of the 1952
Smog Fine Particulate Matter in
Archival Autopsy Lung Tissues Hunt". Environmental Health
Perspectives. 111 (9): 1209–14. doi :10.1289/ehp.6114 .
* ^ Stone, R (2002). "Counting the Cost of London\'s Killer Smog".
Science. 298 (5601): 2106–07. doi :10.1126/science.298.5601.2106b .
* ^ "Choking fog spreads across Britain". BBC News. Retrieved 16
* ^ Domonoske, Camila (2016-11-23). "Research On Chinese Haze Helps
Crack Mystery of London\'s Deadly 1952 Fog". NPR. Retrieved 23
* ^ "Forog Goon Show script".
The Goon Show Site. Retrieved 14
* ^ Dibden, Emma (9 November 2016). "The 10 Key Moments From \'The
Crown\' Season One". Harpers Bazaar.
* ^ Samuelson, Kate (4 November 2016). "Everything to Know About
Smog of 1952, as Seen on The Crown". TIME.
* Bell, Michelle L. and Davis, Devra Lee. Reassessment of the Lethal
London Fog of 1952: Novel Indicators of Acute and Chronic Consequences
of Acute Exposure to Air Pollution ("Environmental Health
Perspectives", June 2001)
* Berridge, Virginia (Ed.). The Big Smoke: Fifty Years After the
Smog (University of London, Institute of Historical
* Brimblecombe, Peter. The Big Smoke: A History of Air Pollution in
London Since Medieval Times (Routledge Kegan ;background:none
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