On December 5, 1952, a blanket of smog built up over the City of London, England. Smog, a word combination of smoke + fog, is a regrettable feature in modern cities. Although London had a history of famous fogs and smogs, these were especially thick around the city’s factory areas.
On this day, the smog began as usual but instead of disappearing during the night, the smog thickened. It was cold and Londoners were heating their homes with coal adding smoke from hundreds of thousands of chimneys to the mix. The following day, the sun failed to burn off the smog and the cycle continued. People couldn’t find their way through the streets.
The cold air mass kept the smog from rising and clearing. Particles of smoke and gases from homes and factories were trapped between the ground and the base of the air mass. Electric trams had been replaced during the summer with diesel buses that contributed their exhausts. Moist air and ground dew combined with some of the particles to produce harmful pollutants and acids, carbon dioxide, fluorine and hydrochloric compounds.
The smog cleared after four more days. Thousands of people died. Even more suffered lung, eye, and skin problems. Animals were asphyxiated.
In response to this disaster, the government eventually passed a series of Clean Air Acts to restrict smoke emissions and to force city residents and factories to convert to smokeless fuels. Although it took many years to clean the city’s air to acceptable levels, it sparked the environmental awareness and education programs that continue to this day.
Here is a link to the first part of the documentary Killer Fog that includes the Great London Smog of 1952 as well as pre- and post- London “soupers”.
B Bondar / Real World Content Advantage