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The Ecologist September 1970: Air pollution panic

Eric S. Albone

4th September, 2010

Forty years ago this month, when Eric S. Albone’s wrote his ‘The Ailing Air’ article, the UK was suffering badly from air pollution and still today Londoners are breathing some of the worst air in Europe

As the UK struggles to meet EU air pollution targets and London is singled out for its continuing failure to meet targets on airborne particles, it seems little progress has been made since this article was published in 1970.

In the same month this Ecologist issue was published, the Scottish Western Regional Cancer Committee reported that air pollution increased the risk of lung cancer by factor of two but smoking multiplied it by 50.

The UK’s poor air quality is a now a bigger killer than passive smoking with 50,000 premature deaths linked to air pollution.

Albone’s piece looked at various aspects of air pollution including smog, acid rain and effects on human health. His predictions about carbon dioxide, ‘not usually considered a pollutant’ at the time now seem scarily correct.

‘By the year 2000 the increase in atmospheric CO2... may be enough to produce measurable and perhaps marked changes in climate... this might even eventually cause some melting of the polar ice caps with an accompanying change in sea level.’

It’s not all bad news though. Acid rain was emerging as an issue of serious concern when Albone wrote about it in 1970; the problem now has been largely resolved with the introduction of sulphur extraction processes to power plants and a number of international treaties.

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