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Archive for December 4th, 2011

The Great Smog of ’52

If you watch the TV series Mad Men, you probably know that the London Fog referred to in the name of the famed outerwear company is a myth.  London does not get particularly foggy but it makes a romantic notion for selling raincoats.  However, London has had a different sort of fogginess at different times in its history.

Smog.

It was on this day, December 4 in 1952, that a heavy smog descended on the city and stayed there for four dark days.  A coinciding series of events led to this.  First, was a hig pressure mass that stalled over the Thames River Valley, bringing windless conditions.  Next was a drop in the temperature which made many of the residents increase their burning of coal to heat their homes.  The particulate pollution from the residential chimneys combined with normal industrial and automotive emissions to form a thick, unmoving fog that blocked out sunlight, eventually bringing all transportation to a halt. 

The worse effect of the Great Smog, as it came to be known, was the human toll.  There are no definitive numbers as to how many people perished in the four day event, which finally came to a halt with a changing weather front that blew away the smog.  Most agree that it was at least 4000 and some suggest that the number is much higher, with some estimates reaching 12,000 victims. 

 Even if it is the lowest of these numbers, I find it astounding that such an event took place a mere 59 years ago.  Even more amazing is that even though measures were taken by the government to lower factory emission and to deter residents from burning coal, a similar, but smaller, event took place ten years later which killed over 100 people in London. 

It brings to mind memories of riding in the family car around Cleveland in the 1960’s when it was still in its industrial heyday.  The factories that crowded the shores of Lake Erie spewed huge plumes of  dark brown mist that gave the sky a sepia soupiness and the smell was sulphury and intense.  Eventually, it would come to light that these factories and others were responsible for the acid rain that defoliated large chunks of the Adirondacks.  Thankfully, regulation took place and driving through Cleveland today is a much different affair with clear skies and views of the lake. 

Take from this what you will.

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