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Commercial cooking overtakes traffic on pollution in Islington

Fumes from food outlets now have the greatest impact on human health, according to London Assembly figures

13 March, 2020 — By Sam Ferguson

COMMERCIAL cooking fumes have overtaken traffic pollution as the leading source of dangerous fine particle emissions in the borough, with possible implications for council planning policy.

PM2.5 particles, also known as fine particulate matter, are thought to be the type of pollution that has the greatest impact on human health.

Traditionally the particles have been associated with vehicle exhausts and tyre or brake wear.

But recent figures released by the London Assembly show the amount of pollution from commercial food outlets has now overtaken traffic pollution – making up just over 20 per cent of all PM.2.5 emissions in the borough.

An expert has said the findings are not a surprise, considering the efforts that have gone into reducing the amount of traffic in Islington and beyond, and warned local authorities may need to turn their attention to new front lines of particle pollution to meet their clear air targets.

A council spokeswoman said it was “too early to tell” whether the findings would herald an overhaul of planning rules, and added the Town Hall was confident in its existing regulations.

Dr David Green is a senior research fellow at King’s College London and an expert in the field of PM2.5 particles.

“The process of heating up food produces particles,” he explained.

“On a commercial or semi-industrial scale you’re heating up a lot of oil. Those particles are then getting out of the commercial premises, possibly through ventilation systems for example.”

Dr Green continued: “When you see that 20 per cent figure you’re looking at 20 per cent of the particles emitted in Islington.

“That’s not the same as the particles in the air in Islington, because that already has particles in it, from lots of sources.

“For example in-blown dust, sea salt and trees that get dried out, as well as emissions from vehicles and industry.”

Dr Green isn’t surprised that commercial cooking is creeping to the top of measurement charts in London boroughs. The source now makes up around 13 per cent of all particle pollution emitted cross the capital.

“There are two reasons,” said Dr Green.

“The emissions from vehicles have reduced over time. Some local work has contributed to this, such as the ULEZ and congestion schemes. But international action has also had a big impact, such as the switch from diesel engines. So vehicles are not emitting as many particles into the atmosphere.

“This means emissions from other sources have become more important.”

Dr Green pointed to the recent government consultation on the sale of wet wood as proof that policy makers are starting to look at ways to tackle other sources of PM2.5.

“We don’t understand the relative toxicity of commercial cooking emissions because we just don’t have the data,” added Dr Green.

“The human body is a very complex system, and we don’t know enough about how it responds to different compositions.”

Dr Green said it was possible that local authorities may need to take the lead on curbing commercial cooking pollution through planning policy.

A Town Hall spokesman told the Tribune it was too early to give a concrete steer on any future policy decisions, given that commercial cooking was a “relatively new area” of air quality research.

But, they added the council was confident in its already “robust” planning regulations around commercial cookery which takes into account the potential for pollution such as smoke, noise and odour pollution.

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