Boris Johnson sticks by gluing pollution to roads

London skyline shrouded in mist/pollution London's air quality has been failing to meet European Union standards

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It sounds like the sort of idea he might have come up with on the satirical TV shows he frequented before becoming London Mayor. But Boris Johnson is serious about gluing pollution to roads.

For the past few months a fleet of specially adapted gritting lorries has been spraying adhesive on some of London's pollution hotspots in the middle of the night.

The idea has been that the calcium-based solution will stick pollution in the air to the road.

London mayor Boris Johnson has called them "wonderful contraptions" which tackle air quality head-on.

But others aren't quite as convinced.

Prof Frank Kelly of King's College London says the technique is a "waste of public money".

The sticky spots

  • Victoria Embankment / Upper Thames St
  • Marylebone / Euston Road
  • Park Lane
  • Earls Court
  • A2 Old Kent Rd, New Cross Rd and Blackheath Rd
  • Blackwall tunnel corridor approaches
  • Mercury Way, Lewisham

"This does not deal with the problem at source," says Prof Kelly, an expert on the impact of atmospheric pollution on human health.

"The moment they stop the spraying, the problem arises again."

The fleet of three lorries is patrolling 19 miles (30km) of roads with some of the worst pollution, including Victoria Embankment, Earl's Court Road, roads leading to the Blackwall Tunnel and in the Euston area.

Between midnight and 06:00, the roads are first swept and jetwashed by a machine similar to a road dust sweeper.

Then a solution of calcium and water is applied by a modified winter gritting machine with a very fine sprinkler-like system attached. Once it settles it is hardly visible.

The aim is to stick tiny sooty particles called PM10s to the road. PM10 is produced by exhaust fumes as well as tyre and brake wear and can cause asthma, cardiovascular problems, lung cancer and premature death.

It is the first time such a technique has been tried in the UK.

Critics say it is a sticking plaster solution designed to avoid fines of up to £300m for failing to comply with EU air quality standards.

"As a health research scientist I am just aghast that they are trying to hide the problem in this way from the European Commission," says Prof Kelly.

Earlier this year air pollution in London hit its highest level since 2003 according to official figures.

The city will be in breach of EU pollution standards in 2012 if there are more than 35 "bad air" days, after which further action can be taken by the European Commission.


The Green Party claims it's no coincidence that the one air monitoring station used by the mayor Boris Johnson to report to the Commission is on one of the routes being sprayed.

"They are cheating, making it look as if targets are being met when they are not with the use of this road glue," said Jenny Jones, a Green member of the London Assembly.

Start Quote

A key priority for the Mayor and TfL is to deliver cleaner air for London through long term measures”

End Quote Garrett Emmerson Transport for London

"Pollution is a problem all over London not just in a few streets."

When she confronted Boris Johnson over the issue earlier this year he was dismissive.

"The point about this substance is that whilst it is taking particulates out of the air it is making them impossible for you to ingest or to inhale," he said.

"And that means it is reducing pollution - unless you bend over get down on all fours and snort it."

Garrett Emmerson, chief operating officer at Transport for London also defended the gluing pollution scheme, one of several methods being used to combat pollution.

More than £900,000 is being spent on the scheme, he says, and trials have shown it has led to a 14 per cent drop in particulate pollution at hotspots.

"A key priority for the Mayor and TfL is to deliver cleaner air for London through long term measures such as introducing low emission vehicles, using cleaner buses, banning the most polluting taxis and tightening the low emission zone standards, as well as immediate measures agreed with the Department for Transport," he says.

"These include discouraging engine-idling, installing green walls and planting trees to absorb pollutants, as well as innovative dust suppressant technology."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    Excellent! This is what the UK voted for. The Conservative way. Money will gloss things over. Presumably the calcium that they are spraying has been extracted from the government's regular supply of free of bull manure.

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    look i'm not a londoner,so you can tell me to mind my own,have the people of the city backed this solution to eradicate polution.should we all be looking into the merits of this modus oporandi?it as been given the all clear by the powers that be? i ask,because it is the first time i've come across this,unless it was on tomorrows world in the distant past.

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    Oh great, another comments section for cyclists to tell us how awesome and fit they are. So, tell us cyclists, how fit and awesome are you?

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    short sightedness at its best

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    Boris is pulling a fast one on the "so called" experts, who are pulling an even bigger fast one on the public.
    Go tell China and India to cut their ever increasing emissions and see how far you get!

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    What a colossal waste of money.

    How is this going to fix what is a long term issue? Does it actually rid or reduce emissions? NO!

    Stick the money in a long term solution to reduce emissions and create jobs on the back of it or invest the money in local services which are increasingly underfunded.

    The incompetence of several senior figures are now beyond a joke.

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    Is the plan to extend this if successful? If so, and it proves effective & cheap, then fine.

    It does sound a bit like a kludged-up masking of the problem though.

    Time will tell.

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    Electric cars are not a blind alley... Hybrids are a curious breed, yes, but battery powered cars are excellent (provided that one is able to charge it from home). Few people travel further than 100 miles in one go on a regular basis... to dismiss a helpful technology in its infancy is ignorance at its worst.

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    The most polluting traffic is that stuck in jams with the engine idling: zero miles per gallon, regardless of however low the official emissions figure is for that vehicle.

    Put the traffic engineers to work to get traffic flowing again instead of doing their best to halt it and pollution levels will drop dramatically.

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    The London low emission zone needs to include all kinds of vehicles, including diesel trains and boats. I was walking by the Thames the other day and one of those fast passenger boats zoomed by...followed by a nice dark cloud of fumes from its engines. Nice. We should see a reduction in pollution from 3rd Jan next year as TFL are tightening emissions further to include vans and minibuses

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    @50 Tuesday11Oct

    To say this method is a solution is like saying that we can solve death by propping dead people up with brooms and opening their eyes with matchsticks.

    It's purely cosmetic

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    I have found that using a combination of cycling and public transport has reduced my travelling costs by roughly 40%, plus improved my fitness.

    Perhaps (as some people have already mentioned) the focus should be on making it safer to cycle in the capital.

    Or ban all motorised vehicles in the capital?

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    Re 58:

    Hybrid and electric cars are a complete enviromental blind alley, especially the hybrid. They only exist because of short-sighted legislation. Over the life of the car, a diesel Range-Rover is cleaner than a Toyota Prius. FACT.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    Any chance of glueing Boris's hair to his head?

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    Make the manufactures sell Hybrid and Electric cars for the same price as the petrol equivalent. A Prius starts at £21,000 and is no more economical that a much cheaper diesel. Electric cars are almost £30K. You can buy a very good new Mercedes for that and It'll last longer than your electric car, so what's environmental about that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    Any danger of gluing Boris to the road!

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    This country needs more Boris Johnsons! Always prepared to adopt innovative approaches and totally oblivious to ill-informed media inspired criticism.
    This follows the hierarchy of COSHH control measures recommended by the HSE in INDG136! Most of the other measures have been tried or are ineffective or unworkable so next best is to remove it close to source.
    Good one Boris!

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    In the good old days tall chimneys were used to spread pollution around evenly, but still poisonously.
    Nowadays we have much cleaner factories and vehicles.
    Trouble is there are a lot more of us, so even the cleanest vehicles and processes will still be a problem in some areas.
    Too many people here, especially in the South East.
    I'm no tree hugger, but we need a plan to sort this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    The rise in fuel duty will do far more to lower London’s pollution than anything else.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    @27 Could you point out the bit where I suggest we ban petrol engines? No you can't because I didn't. Thanks.

    The 20th is the World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims. 30000 people killed in the UK in the last decade. This is about more than just pollution.

    Of course cars are useful, and we need them, but perhaps we should be more conscious of the price we pay for that convenience.


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