Deadly Fog Kills Thousands of Londoners

By | August 3, 2018

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The Great Smog of London, 1952. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

Londoners are no strangers to fog. But in 1952, the perfect storm of weather, industrial airborne pollutants, and geography created a fog, or smog event, that choked the lives out of as many as 6,000 people and sickened 100,000 more. The Great Smog of London, as it became known, ranks as one of the worst air pollution disasters in history and led to legislative changes.

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How Did Fog Kill So Many People?

The Great Smog of London wasn’t an ordinary, pea-soup fog that Londoners frequently experience. It was a smog, a mixture of fog and smoke. London was in a full-fledged industrial mode in the 1950s and much of the industry was powered by coal. Plus, the Great Smog happened in December and the brutal cold meant that nearly every household in London was burning coal in their furnaces. That caused a lot of smoke to fill the air above the city.

Following World War II, most of the coal used in London was a poorer quality, domestic coal that, when burned, released more sulfur dioxide in the smoke. Experts point to at least one of the numerous coal-fueled power stations in the area, Battersea, as possibly contributing to the increase in sulfur dioxide. The power station had recently installed a system that was designed to reduce the soot, but it resulted in more smoke output.

The Great Smog only lasted a few days. As soon as weather patterns changed, the fog naturally dissipated.