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 92.

    So the congestion charge really worked then........

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    Has Boris been spending too much time in California?
    Potty idea,, seems to me like a red herring idea that will just cost tax payers money.
    Anyone told that times are hard?

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    Until public transport and green tech match or better our current methods, current methods will be used.
    Electric cars at the moment just dont cut it; eg charging one isnt as simple as filling a petrol one. And public transport just is not up to scratch yet.
    This is just one idea that HELPS, there is no immediate switch. We will never get to the holy grail if people complain at every single step

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    @88 koru

    Nice idea, however this will only work if there are clean sources of electricity to charge the electric vehicles

    @85 Luke Sidney

    It's not a solution, it's propping up dead people with brooms (Post 62).

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    How about just getting as many electric vehicles on the road as possible, and getting as many of these nasty polluting vehicles off? Its depressing waiting for evolution......

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    low emission technology has already been invented but hasn't been invited into society at mass due to its easier for the government to make money from tax off oil.

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    But theres the problem, the REAL world needs REAL solutions, not exagerated ideas based on personal opinion. No, this sticky road idea is not a final solution, but it is meant to reduce air pollution as, for now, cars cant "just be banned".
    Ridiculous overzealous nonsense. Ignoring the cultural, social and physical issues of personal transport

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    I think people need to realize this is only a temporary fix, and its better have a temporary fix than nothing!
    The real question is what will happen to the run off from this 'glue', its obviously water soluble so will run off after rain.
    So its going to run into drains, I don't know the drainage system of London, I assume road drains lead to the Thames.
    That will cause some problems in the river!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    I said this the other day in the smoking in cars thread. Can we not ban cars as they are clearly destroying the environment I live in. I don't drive, so why should I have to breathe in fumes which cause asthma, cardiovascular problems, lung cancer and premature death. Of course not; it is a riduclous idea to ban cars, but so is banning smoking in them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    Frankly the EU should be told to butt right out of things like this. While polution isn't nice, polution in London is a UK situation and we should feel free to deal or nmot to deal with it as we see fit. No one from the EU is forced to visit London. Another GOOD reason to have that referendum that dictator Cameron decided against.

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    In the modern world where everyone is wonderful and allowed free emotional reign, the children will take over.
    Solution. Identify problem: vehicles. Reduce to WHATEVER level achieves result desired BY FORCE.
    THEN attend to emotional & other problems if possible. If not DON'T.
    Proceed forward with life and job responsibilities.

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    74. Frank Lund
    Setting traffic light timing so that it does not generate congestion merely to prove the need for Congestion Charge would be a great help.
    Nottingham city council (lost £50M in Iceland) has done the same recently for the same reason. Roads which were clear at rush hour are now jammed solid because of changes to the light timings... funnily enough they want a congestion tax too.

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    Anyone else think the report on the initial trials is rather dubious and insufficient to warrant rolling out to £900,000 pa.

    Struggling with finding a decent control site.
    Abandoning the initial idea to monitor the improvement
    No use (or mention) of results from the reference method sensor sited in the trial area

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    I have difficulty with such schemes not because I wouldn't hope for cleaner enviroment but with the Chinese,Indians and others pumping what they do into the atmosphere can this scheme really have anymore effect than me being made to recycle my baked bean tins? I think the answer to that is no so the next question is surely.. whats the point Boris?

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    90% of cars and other vehicles could be permanently excluded from city centres without much expense at all. I can't see the need for cars in London centre especially. We would soon adapt. Ban cars then we wouldn't have to worry about banning smoking in them. (Oh and no I don't cycle and I am awfully old and unfit - but heh lets do something radical for a change).

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    Has any comment that has been 'Referred for further consideration' ever seen the light of day again?

    Maybe they are sent away to be 'Reeducated'.

    If this is classed as off topic how about, 'Pollution is bad,we must do something!'

    That better?

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    He realy should be glued to a comedy programme?

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    We love Bonkers "Wic Wac" Boris! While they're at it can they glue some commonsense in there as well!

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    12 Minutes ago
    The most polluting traffic is that stuck in jams with the engine idling:.

    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.

    Setting traffic light timing so that it does not generate congestion merely to prove the need for Congestion Charge would be a great help.

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    I want to know about the science too. How does it work? Presumably the process relies on particulates falling onto the road, where they stick. Sounds a bit like sweeping dirt over the carpet...


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