1999 - 1900United Kingdom

An infamous cold snap in London in December 1952 produced a toxic ‘peasouper’ fog that lingered for days and caused a huge number of premature deaths. At first, there was little response. Prime Minister Harold MacMillan fobbed off the House of Commons with talk of the complexity and expense of cleaning up air quality. But a committee, chaired by engineer Sir Hugh Beaver, found a shocking winter mortality rate in Britain from lung ailments and recommended solutions. It was a private member’s bill from Kidderminster MP Gerald Nabarro that pricked a reluctant government into action. Four years after the great London smog came the milestone Clean Air Act of 1956.

After the Clean Air Act was passed, councils rushed to declare smoke control areas, but it was often not easy to enforce them. C Wilks helped to introduce one of England’s largest smoke control areas – more than a thousand acres of central Leeds. He remembers: “Explaining the benefits of a smoke control area was like selling sand to the Arabs. Putting it mildly, the occupants of houses were not impressed, especially when we used the chilling phrase, ‘You will not be allowed to burn coal.’ We followed that up with the magic words: ”There will be a grant to replace your fireplace with an appliance to burn smokeless fuels.”

Many now retired inspectors feel justly proud of the practical role they played in bringing about smoke control. Adrian Lord writes: “As a junior public health inspector in Rochdale, I spent time helping Bill Garside, the senior PHI, to implement the programme in the town. Through his sheer doggedness and determination, the programme was successfully completed, bringing about a transformation of the environmental conditions of the borough.

“Initially, there was opposition to the programme, particularly reservations about more limited reductions in sulphur dioxide and fears about potential shortages of smokeless fuels. But they were overcome. I would contend that, on a national basis, the smoke control programme eventually resulted in the single largest improvement in environmental conditions this country has seen. The killer smogs were consigned to history and this was especially thanks to the work of PHIs throughout the country.”


Photo reference: https://twitter.com/GreenpeaceUK/status/882516322025967617