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London Congestion Charge improves life expectancy

Charging system has cut levels of nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter

OnMedica Staff

Thursday, 28 February 2008

The London Congestion Charge seems to have had a "modest benefit" on pollution levels and life expectancy, researchers say.

The Mayor of London introduced the Congestion Charge five years ago this month, in a bid to ease traffic congestion in central London during working hours. It originally covered an area of 21 km2 with a resident population of 200,000 people and was extended to cover a much larger area last year.

Focusing on the original zone, the researchers modelled annual levels of air pollution and their repercussions based on measurements of changes in traffic flow across London. They focused on nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulate matter and the expected increase in life expectancy from reduced exposure to these pollutants.

Their results showed that there had been little change in pollutant levels in London as a whole, but substantial falls in the charging zones.

Levels of NO2 fell the most and there were smaller falls in particulate matter levels. The greatest falls were seen in the most deprived areas of London.

Dr Paul Wilkinson, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in London, said particulate matter levels fell less because a large amount comes from outside the capital and sources other than vehicles contribute to this form of pollution.

The results, published online ahead of print in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine, show the scheme has resulted in 1888 extra years of life for the overall population of Greater London (roughly 7.2 million people) and 683 years of life for those in the congestion charging zone wards (approximately 370,000 people).

The Congestion Charge did not set out specifically to improve health, and it covered a comparatively small part of inner London. Dr Wilkinson said:  "Policies affecting a larger geographical area and residential population, and which directly aim to reduce vehicle emissions, are likely to have larger public health impacts."

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