History

The Killer London Fog of 1952

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It’s no secret that the environment has been a major issue during the past few years. With the polarizing election and the changes that the world has experienced recently, this trend only promises to continue. The skies of China are sometimes so polluted that residents need to wear a mask. There are major cities in the United States that have had comparable days as well. As the smog over major cities continues to thicken, it is starting to look less like the beautiful blue skies we are used to seeing and more like the city of London in 1952.

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A “Killer Fog”
While London is certainly known for its foggy skies, sometimes the fog escalates to an unsafe level. This is what happens when the fog brings the air and the clouds down to ground level and places the pollution in front of the people walking around on the streets. This is what happened in December of 1952 on the streets of London. The fog was particularly thick on that day and buried the capital of the United Kingdom in a deadly level of pollution. The sun appeared black on that day and the citizens were left gasping for fresh air that was nowhere to be found. The entire city was paralyzed as they could do nothing except wait for the fog to clear. Once it actually lifted, estimates have placed the death toll at close to 4,000 people.

How Did this Start?
In early December, the temperatures were unusually cold even for the city of London. This situation drove people to stay indoors in a desperate search for heat. What happened next was that people rushed to their coal fireplaces to quickly heat their homes. The soot shot up the chimneys and into the air. While this is nothing new, it was burned at a rate that was higher than normal, even for London. As the temperatures continued to fall, the fog began to drop down towards the streets. People were having trouble identifying London’s iconic landmarks such as Big Ben and St. Paul’s Cathedral. Because no one really understood what the fog was bringing, the fireplaces continued to burn. This soot was pumped up into the fog that had draped the city. The fog responded by burying the city in the soot that was leaving the chimneys and industrial smokestacks.

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A City at a Standstill
Without any breeze to evacuate the smog, the fog remained over the city of London. The smell wasn’t just bad, it was noxious and it was poisonous. The sulfur and acid created a smell that wreaked of rotten eggs. The smog lasted for five days and completely crippled the city. Flights were grounded. Cars couldn’t see. The boats didn’t move. Kids were kept home from school. Eventually, citizens started to catch deadly bronchitis that turned into pneumonia. While the estimated death toll sits around 4,000, some people have placed the death toll around 12,000. This death toll was a warning that this should never happen again.

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