London's Great Smog of 1952 Still Has Health Consequences

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During the December of 1952, a high-pressure front and light winds in combination with coal burning created the Great Smog of London, its fumes becoming trapped over the city and remaining there for four days. During this time the city was in a standstill, with transportation collapsing due to poor visibility.

The smog was even the cause of interruption of an opera because the audience couldn’t see the stage, and the first casualties of it were the cattle at the Smithfield show. But there were others – hospitals had their hands full with patients suffering from respiratory problems, and by one estimate over 4000 people died because of the smog.

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Since the disaster, the British government worked hard to phase out coal furnaces and improve the quality of air in the city by building 80 monitoring stations that track levels of pollutants such as carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide in the air.

But, according to a study in the American Thoracic Society's American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, the health consequences of the Great Smog can still be felt today. Researches from University of California, San Diego, Massachusetts and Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health studied the health effects of the Great Smog on early childhood health.

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There was a clear connection between early-life exposure to pollution and later development of asthma, as children exposed to the Great Smog in their first year of life were 20 percent more likely to develop childhood asthma, and almost 10 percent more likely to have asthma in their adult life. This is the first time a major environmental disaster has provided such a link between these two factors.

"Our results suggest that the harm from this dreadful event over 60 years ago lives on today," Mathew Neidell, and Associate Professor Health Policy and Management at Columbia, noted in a press release. "Very young children living in heavily polluted environments, such as Beijing, are likely to experience significant changes in health over their life course."

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