Air pollution in London has reached the legal limit for the whole of 2018 less than a month into the year, prompting calls for the government to “get a grip and show they’re serious about protecting health”.

Toxic air has been at illegal levels in the capital and most urban areas in the UK since 2010 and results in around 40,000 early deaths a year.

The date of this year’s reaching of the limit, at Brixton Road in Lambeth, is actually a significant improvement on previous years: for the last decade air pollution has reached illegal levels no later than six days into the year.

The improvement is partly the result of action taken by the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, who introduced cleaner buses on routes through pollution blackspots and charges to deter dirty vehicles from central London. “But I have one hand tied behind my back due to government policies and inaction,” he told the Guardian.

Clean air plans put forward by ministers have already twice been declared illegal at the high court for failing to cut air pollution in the “shortest time possible”, as EU law requires. The government is now awaiting the verdict in a third case brought by environmental lawyers ClientEarth, after a hearing earlier in January.

“Londoners are still breathing filthy air on a daily basis,” said Simon Alcock at ClientEarth. “There’s much more to do. But the mayor can’t solve this problem alone. Ministers have to get a grip and show they’re serious about protecting our health by committing to real action to tackle our toxic air.”

Article by Damian Carrington, Environment editor at The Guardian news papers.

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