BY TOBY PORTER
A benchmark pollution monitoring station (pictured above) which has made regular headlines is out of action after rainwater got in and damaged it last summer.
No measurements have been taken so far this year in Brixton Road, Brixton because repeated attempts to fix the meters failed.
Another monitoring station, in Catford, Lewisham, is only measuring nitrogen dioxide and not sulphur dioxide or PM10 – harmful dust particles.
And campaigners are furious they cannot now tell if toxic chemicals in the air in Lambeth are rising or falling. Mums for Lungs (MfL), a campaigning organisation based in the borough, is angry at the missed opportunity to generate comparisons with last year’s fall – when EU maximums for the entire year were breached within 30 days of the start of January.
The previous year it only took a week. The breakdown highlights the need for extra vigilance following the death, possibly from the effects of illegal levels of air pollution, of Ella Kissi-Debrah, of Forest Hill in 2103.
Her mum, Rosamund, said: “If they are going to get rid of these monitoring stations, we need to be told – and why.
Rosamund Kissi-Debrah said of the lack of PM10 and sulphur dioxide monitoring in Catford: “After what we have been through as a family, I would like every aspect of all monitors to work, so we can monitor the impact of toxic air on children’s health.
“We must correlate spikes in air pollution with hospital admissions. “Last year, Lewisham had the second highest hospital admissions for children with asthma in London.”
“And what will happen to monitoring, when we know levels of pollution are dangerous. “If not, when will they be fixed?
The Brixton one is important, because it is a gauge of how bad the pollution is. I am more worried about the Catford as I live in Lewisham.”
MfL founder Jemima Hartshorn said: “This is a really key moment to know how bad things are, especially with how Brexit might affect our ability to tackle a public health emergency.
“The council has been trying to fix it. But it is vital we get figures to stop the Government dragging its feet.”
One concerned mum from Lambeth, Claire McDonald, said: “I have two kids, I live in Lambeth, I loathe the toxic cocktail of fumes we have to breathe each day.
“If we’re not measuring the pollution, how can we know if it is reducing? It’s the first step to any sensible debate about the subject.”
Latest figures show Brixton Road is the only monitoring station not working – all other readings are low, apart from Vauxhall, where PM10 levels are in the top of the moderate range.
A Lambeth council spokesman said: “We have been badly let down by our suppliers in reconnecting the Brixton monitoring station.
“We take air quality monitoring seriously, as can be seen by the vast amount of work we do with residents, schools and businesses in this area and as demonstrated by our Air Quality Action Plan, and we are deeply frustrated by the amount of time and effort it has taken to get this important monitoring site back up and running following flood damage last year.
“The suppliers are finally due to install the equipment this week and afterwards electricity will need to be reconnected to the station and the monitoring equipment then calibrated.
“We were originally promised the station would be up-and-running in November. We apologise to residents and stakeholders who are equally concerned by this most serious of issues, and we have made several complaints to our suppliers regarding the delay.”
A spokeswoman for King’s College London said: “No data has been collected at the Brixton site so far this year.
“In general, our experts say it has been a good start to the year across London with NO2 pollution levels down on what has been seen by this point in previous years.”
Ms Jemima Hartshorn from Herne Hill was invited to speak at the United Nations Climate Conference in Poland last month. She was invited to give a live-streamed speech to the conference by a World Health Organisation official who lives in Geneva.
“These campaigns are a big commitment but I feel very passionately about these issues, with a son of two and another baby due in six weeks,” she said. “I realised walking the streets with my son in a pram that things are bad in South London.
“Toxic air contributes to as many as 9,500 early deaths a year in London. It causes asthma and heart attacks, strokes and lung cancer and there are suggested links to diabetes, dementia and a reduction in people’s ability to learn.
“In the womb, maternal exposure can result in premature and low birth-weight babies.
“Children living in highly-polluted areas are more likely to have reduced lung growth. In old age, a life-time of exposure can result in reduced life expectancy.”