Better ventilation could be key for London Underground to manage air quality, finds new study

A lack of fresh air was found in a deep London Underground station, and air pollution is at its worst during the evening rush hour, according to new research led by the University of Surrey, which was conducted as part of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council-funded INHALE project.

Surrey’s Global Centre for Clear Air Research (GCARE) collected airborne particulates on a deep-level (around 18 meters below ground) platform in South Kensington station. The results found that the underground environment they tested exceeded the World Health Organization air quality guidelines for fine and coarse air pollution particles*, although remains well within the limits set by the Health and Safety Executive.

The pollution collected was analysed using an electron microscope by Imperial College London to test their makeup, which detected tiny amounts of ultrafine (100 nanometers or less) particles, including iron, manganese and traces of chromium and toxic organic matter.

Professor Prashant Kumar, study lead and Director of GCARE at the University of Surrey, said:

“More work needs to be done to understand how the metal traces in the small airborne particles impact people’s health. In the meantime, we recommend that consideration is given to improving ventilation on the London Underground where possible.

“We accept that air pollution on platforms is a very complex problem to solve and that an effort is being made to clean the Underground during quieter periods. Our team points to the newly opened Elizabeth Line as an example of good practice — in particular, the use of a screen between the train and the platform to protect passengers from pollution caused by the trains.”

The monitoring and collection of particles took place on the eastbound Piccadilly Line platform in South Kensington station, which also serves the District and Circle Lines. The Piccadilly Line is a deep-level line that is relatively closed to outside air.

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