On this day in 1952, The Great Smog, a deadly air-pollution event, descends upon the British capital of London. When it finally lifted, government medical reports in the weeks following estimated 4,000 people had died as a direct result of the smog with 100,000 more made ill by the smog’s effects on the respiratory tract. Contemporary research, however, suggests the total number of fatalities was considerably greater, about 12,000.
The Great Smog 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.” A period of cold weather, combined with an anticyclone and windless conditions, had collected airborne pollutants—mostly arising from the use of coal—to form an ominous pall of smog over the city.
London had suffered since the 1200’s from poor air quality, which worsened in the 1600’s, 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 on air quality and health. It did lead to several changes in practices and regulations, including the Clean Air Act 1956, but sadly, societies and their ostensible leaders quickly forget.
At the 65th anniversary of the event last year in the US, former coal executive and convicted felon Don Blankenship has launched his campaign for the US Senate with an advertisement asserting his innocence in a mine disaster that killed 29. Heading to points west, Donald Trump will shrink the size of two national monuments in Utah, per Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, a change that will open parts of them to drilling and mining, but which Democrats, environmental groups and Native Americans are vowing to fight.
So we close with a question; does anyone on the moneyed-interest side of things ever crack a science book anymore? Ever? And here endeth the lesson . . . .