Sunday 4 December 2011

A Proper Pea-Souper

Drivers were blinded, planes were grounded, trains were halted, operas were cancelled, pedestrians suffocated and cattle were asphyxiated in London, England in 1952.  What was the cause?  Smog.  Temperatures were particularly low in November and early December and snow had already fallen.  Londoners were burning coal at an alarming rate.  Electric trams had recently been replaced by diesel buses, adding to the pollution.  Finally, an anticyclone was hovering over the area, forcing the air down and leaving very little wind to circulate.  East Enders suffered from a higher incidence of bronchitis and pneumonia due to the proliference of factories and the proximity of the dwellings.  Residents on the Isle of Dogs, which is surrounded by the River Thames, could not even see their feet during the Pea-Souper which lasted from December 4 to 9.  Florists and funeral directors flourished as the death rate soared to 4000.  It is estimated that another 8000 died in the two months that followed, with some saying that the smog did not completely disperse until March of 1953.  As a result of the Great Smog, the British government passed the Clean Air Act of 1956, eliminating the widespread use of coal furnaces and replacing them with central heating.

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