After the Great Smog of 1952 killed up to 12,000 Londoners, the country cleaned up its act. But today, pollution of another kind may be just as insidious – and almost as lethal.
Imagine smog so thick that you can’t see your feet as you walk through it; so impenetrable that it blots out the sun; so toxic that it stings your eyes and leaves you gasping for breath.
It may sound like the backdrop to some post-apocalyptic nightmare, but on 5 December 1952, this terrifying scenario became the reality for the people of London. That day’s incident alone killed thousands and prompted a global transformation in the way we deal with air pollution.
On that cold, clear day in 1952, Londoners huddled around their coal fires for warmth. But while the smoke would normally disperse into the atmosphere, an anticyclone hanging over the region created an inversion – trapping the pollution close to the ground and leading to the formation of a sulphurous, toxic shroud that would blanket the capital for the next five days.
Before the weather conditions changed and the smog retreated, thousands had died. Official estimates at the time put the number of fatalities at 4,000 – more civilian casualties than were caused by any single incident during the war – while recent research suggests that it may have caused as many as 12,000 deaths.
Read more: BBC