The London low emission zone baseline study

Res Rep Health Eff Inst. 2011 Nov;(163):3-79.


On February 4, 2008, the world's largest low emission zone (LEZ) was established. At 2644 km2, the zone encompasses most of Greater London. It restricts the entry of the oldest and most polluting diesel vehicles, including heavy-goods vehicles (haulage trucks), buses and coaches, larger vans, and minibuses. It does not apply to cars or motorcycles. The LEZ scheme will introduce increasingly stringent Euro emissions standards over time. The creation of this zone presented a unique opportunity to estimate the effects of a stepwise reduction in vehicle emissions on air quality and health. Before undertaking such an investigation, robust baseline data were gathered on air quality and the oxidative activity and metal content of particulate matter (PM) from air pollution monitors located in Greater London. In addition, methods were developed for using databases of electronic primary-care records in order to evaluate the zone's health effects. Our study began in 2007, using information about the planned restrictions in an agreed-upon LEZ scenario and year-on-year changes in the vehicle fleet in models to predict air pollution concentrations in London for the years 2005, 2008, and 2010. Based on this detailed emissions and air pollution modeling, the areas in London were then identified that were expected to show the greatest changes in air pollution concentrations and population exposures after the implementation of the LEZ. Using these predictions, the best placement of a pollution monitoring network was determined and the feasibility of evaluating the health effects using electronic primary-care records was assessed. To measure baseline pollutant concentrations before the implementation of the LEZ, a comprehensive monitoring network was established close to major roadways and intersections. Output-difference plots from statistical modeling for 2010 indicated seven key areas likely to experience the greatest change in concentrations of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) (at least 3 microg/m3) and of PM with an aerodynamic diameter < or = 10 microm (PM10) (at least 0.75 microg/m3) as a result of the LEZ; these suggested that the clearest signals of change were most likely to be measured near roadsides. The seven key areas were also likely to be of importance in carrying out a study to assess the health outcomes of an air quality intervention like the LEZ. Of the seven key areas, two already had monitoring sites with a full complement of equipment, four had monitoring sites that required upgrades of existing equipment, and one required a completely new installation. With the upgrades and new installations in place, fully ratified (verified) pollutant data (for PM10, PM with an aerodynamic diameter < or = 2.5 microm [PM2.5], nitrogen oxides [NOx], and ozone [O3] at all sites as well as for particle number, black smoke [BS], carbon monoxide [CO], and sulfur dioxide [SO2] at selected sites) were then collected for analysis. In addition, the seven key monitoring sites were supported by other sites in the London Air Quality Network (LAQN). From these, a robust set of baseline air quality data was produced. Data from automatic and manual traffic counters as well as automatic license-plate recognition cameras were used to compile detailed vehicle profiles. This enabled us to establish more precise associations between ambient pollutant concentrations and vehicle emissions. An additional goal of the study was to collect baseline PM data in order to test the hypothesis that changes in traffic densities and vehicle mixes caused by the LEZ would affect the oxidative potential and metal content of ambient PM10 and PM2.5. The resulting baseline PM data set was the first to describe, in detail, the oxidative potential and metal content of the PM10 and PM2.5 of a major city's airshed. PM in London has considerable oxidative potential; clear differences in this measure were found from site to site, with evidence that the oxidative potential of both PM10 and PM2.5 at roadside monitoring sites was higher than at urban background locations. In the PM10 samples this increased oxidative activity appeared to be associated with increased concentrations of copper (Cu), barium (Ba), and bathophenanthroline disulfonate-mobilized iron (BPS Fe) in the roadside samples. In the PM2.5 samples, no simple association could be seen, suggesting that other unmeasured components were driving the increased oxidative potential in this fraction of the roadside samples. These data suggest that two components were contributing to the oxidative potential of roadside PM, namely Cu and BPS Fe in the coarse fraction of PM (PM with an aerodynamic diameter of 2.5 microm to 10 microm; PM(2.5-10)) and an unidentified redox catalyst in PM2.5. The data derived for this baseline study confirmed key observations from a more limited spatial mapping exercise published in our earlier HEI report on the introduction of the London's Congestion Charging Scheme (CCS) in 2003 (Kelly et al. 2011a,b). In addition, the data set in the current report provided robust baseline information on the oxidative potential and metal content of PM found in the London airshed in the period before implementation of the LEZ; the finding that a proportion of the oxidative potential appears in the PM coarse mode and is apparently related to brake wear raises important issues regarding the nature of traffic management schemes. The final goal of this baseline study was to establish the feasibility, in ethical and operational terms, of using the U.K.'s electronic primary-care records to evaluate the effects of the LEZ on human health outcomes. Data on consultations and prescriptions were compiled from a pilot group of general practices (13 distributed across London, with 100,000 patients; 29 situated in the inner London Borough of Lambeth, with 200,000 patients). Ethics approvals were obtained to link individual primary-care records to modeled NOx concentrations by means of post-codes. (To preserve anonymity, the postcodes were removed before delivery to the research team.) A wide range of NOx exposures was found across London as well as within and between the practices examined. Although we observed little association between NOx exposure and smoking status, a positive relationship was found between exposure and increased socioeconomic deprivation. The health outcomes we chose to study were asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, wheeze, hay fever, upper and lower respiratory tract infections, ischemic heart disease, heart failure, and atrial fibrillation. These outcomes were measured as prevalence or incidence. Their distributions by age, sex, socioeconomic deprivation, ethnicity, and smoking were found to accord with those reported in the epidemiology literature. No cross-sectional positive associations were found between exposure to NOx and any of the studied health outcomes; some associations were significantly negative. After the pilot study, a suitable primary-care database of London patients was identified, the General Practice Research Database responsible for giving us access to these data agreed to collaborate in the evaluation of the LEZ, and an acceptable method of ensuring privacy of the records was agreed upon. The database included about 350,000 patients who had remained at the same address over the four-year period of the study. Power calculations for a controlled longitudinal analysis were then performed, indicating that for outcomes such as consultations for respiratory illnesses or prescriptions for asthma there was sufficient power to identify a 5% to 10% reduction in consultations for patients most exposed to the intervention compared with patients presumed to not be exposed to it. In conclusion, the work undertaken in this study provides a good foundation for future LEZ evaluations. Our extensive monitoring network, measuring a comprehensive set of pollutants (and a range of particle metrics), will continue to provide a valuable tool both for assessing the impact of LEZ regulations on air quality in London and for furthering understanding of the link between PM's composition and toxicity. Finally, we believe that in combination with our modeling of the predicted population-based changes in pollution exposure in London, the use of primary-care databases forms a sound basis and has sufficient statistical power for the evaluation of the potential impact of the LEZ on human health.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Air Pollutants / analysis*
  • Air Pollution / analysis*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Environmental Exposure / analysis
  • Environmental Monitoring / methods
  • Female
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • London
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Metals / analysis
  • Middle Aged
  • Nitrogen Oxides / analysis*
  • Particulate Matter / analysis*
  • Pilot Projects
  • Primary Health Care / statistics & numerical data
  • Small-Area Analysis
  • Smoking
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Vehicle Emissions / analysis*
  • Young Adult


  • Air Pollutants
  • Metals
  • Nitrogen Oxides
  • Particulate Matter
  • Vehicle Emissions