EntertainmentGreat Smog of 1952: How the deadly fog claimed 4,000 lives and left an indelible mark on London

Great Smog of 1952: How the deadly fog claimed 4,000 lives and left an indelible mark on London

Fog lifting over London
Fog lifting over London
Images source: © via Getty Images | Adam Lister
2:33 AM EST, February 3, 2024

The deadly smog that hovered over London claimed more lives than one could imagine. Over five days, nearly 4,000 people perished. Still, this is not the full extent of the catastrophe that's etched in history as the Great Smog of London. What was life like then, and did the smog's departure really mean an end to the problem?

The origins of London's smog

People didn’t pay much attention to the thickly suspended smog over the city. However, it quickly proved to be lethally dangerous. The toxic, black-yellow fog reduced visibility to just several dozen feet, resulting in many accidents. It also started causing respiratory issues. Today, we know that sulfuric acid resulting from coal combustion and penetrating the fog layer played a major role in the fatalities. It is believed that the event significantly changed the lives of Londoners.

What were the consequences of London's smog?

On December 9, 1952, the wind finally dispersed the smog from the city, but it didn't alleviate the situation. Over the following weeks, the lingering toxic air resulted in a startling number of fatalities, estimated to be as many as 12,000 people. This death toll surpasses that of the German raids during World War II as well as the cholera epidemic of 1866. It was only then that society, authorities, and businesses alike started to draw serious conclusions, which were necessary for ensuring public safety in future.

In 1956, the Clean Air Act was established. Up until then, wearing gauze masks was recommended. Coal-burning was gradually phased out in favor of gas, and power plants were relocated outside of London. City leaders designated specific zones for burning smoke-free fuels, and over time, more regulations were introduced to combat smog. Does this historical event serve as a warning for us today?

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