How London was shrouded in a deadly fog or the Great Smog

Posted on Aug 8, 2021      85

On December 5, 1952, one of the worst environmental events in English history occurred: the Great Smog. Warm air from the North Sea stopped over London. This layer of hot air enveloped the city with an almost impenetrable gas cap for five long days. During this period, over 5,000 Londoners died and over 100,000 were affected. The death rate in those days almost eight times the normal rate.

London’s air is driven by the wind blowing from the North Sea and the English Channel, which acts as a kind of nature-cleaning team. The wind blows away the fog, and there are days when London is bathed in sunshine.

Unfortunately, in December 1952, the air over London was still. There were not enough strong winds to disperse the pollutant-soaked fog, so people were forced to inhale this extremely polluted air.

There are medical reports that say people staggered to the hospital for a breath of clean air. Some of them did not even make it to the hospital, dying of asphyxiation.

The fog was very thick. Airports were closed, and ambulances drove through the streets of London at five kilometers per hour. Visibility was close to zero. As the fog crept into buildings, even inside, there were problems with visibility. London hospitals quickly filled up with victims with respiratory illnesses, and the death rate in the city began to rise.

At first, these facts did not get publicity, but a few days later, it turned out that undertakers had run out of coffins, and flower vendors had run out of mourning wreaths. Ambulances had no time to reach the sick - the whole city was stuck in one big traffic jam, unable to move. People were dying of suffocation.

On December 8, the wind blew in London again, but it was too late for the thousands of citizens who died of suffocation, coughing up their last breath.

“It’s almost on a mass extermination scale,” exclaimed the Member of Parliament when the death toll exceeded thousands.

Air pollution had always been London’s problem. The “Great Smog of 1952” changed Londoners’ relationship to nature. In early 1953, the British government urgently started a very major study on London’s air quality and the causes of high pollution levels.

As early as 1956, Britain passed the Clean Air Act (seven years before the United States passed the Act), which decimated air pollution.

In 1962, however, another killer fog hit London, demonstrating that six years was not enough time to change air quality.

But this time the number of deaths was much lower, 136 of Londoners died, and the vast majority of those who died were elderly people with respiratory problems or heart failure. Almost thousands of people needed medical attention, but the overall damage was negligible compared to that caused by the Great Smog of 1952.