As one of the leading paediatricians in the country studying the effects of air pollution, Jonathan Grigg, Professor of Paediatric Respiratory and Environmental Medicine at Queen Mary University, London is at the forefront of research into how air pollution affects us all.

A vocal supporter of the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), he has welcomed its expansion from August this year across all London boroughs to help clear the air and improve the health of the 5 million people living there.

Every person living in London can be affected by air pollution in some way. That's the conclusion of Professor Jonathan Grigg, an international leader in respiratory research in children.

Jonathan Grigg
(Jonathan Grigg )

Air pollution can impact our eyes, nose and throat, our lungs and our heart – increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease. In nearly every organ in the body we have looked at, we see the effects of long-term and short-term exposure,” he explains.

Those recovering from heart attacks or pregnant women are particularly vulnerable, as are people with existing lung conditions like COPD or asthma: “Someone who has mild asthma can be tipped over into having life-threatening episodes.”

He welcomes the expansion of the ULEZ across all London boroughs from August this year, helping to take the most highly polluting vehicles off the road – helping to reduce the air pollution Londoners breathe in.

Since the ULEZ was introduced in 2019, harmful nitrogen dioxide pollution is estimated to have been cut by nearly half in central London. Professor Grigg is fully supportive of the move to help protect the health of millions more people living in London’s outer boroughs.

ULEZ sign
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“This is one of the most important public health interventions that we can have,” he said.

In 2016 he co-authored a report from the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health examining the impact of exposure to air pollution across the course of a lifetime which highlighted air pollution's links to lung development and increases in heart attacks and strokes, along with associated links to asthma, diabetes, dementia, obesity and cancer for the wider population.

“Lung capacity is definitely affected – we have shown that in studies in east London showing the difference in lung function in children. This is about every child achieving their full potential, and certainly air pollution is interfering with that.”

He adds that we are only beginning to understand the extent of the impact of air pollution: “there are children in our clinics who wouldn’t have asthma if they hadn’t had that exposure.

Heavy congested traffic on a busy London street
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This year, Professor Grigg will be launching the first environmental assessment clinic at the Royal London Hospital to look at children’s exposure to indoor and outdoor air pollution.

We need action at a scale that covers where most of the population live. The central zone has shown the ULEZ is feasible and has been a success, but we need to do something to help protect the health of all Londoners, so it makes logical sense to me to extend that as far as is feasible.”

What is the ULEZ?

From August 29, 2023, the ULEZ will be expanded to create one single zone across all London boroughs, to help clear London’s air and improve health.

More than four out of five vehicles already meet the emissions standards. But, if you drive a petrol vehicle over 16 years old or a diesel vehicle over 6 years old you need to check if you’re affected. The easiest way to check is to use TfL’s simple vehicle checker:

Certain Londoners on low income or disability benefits may be eligible to receive a payment to scrap their vehicle through the Mayor of London’s £110m scrappage scheme. London based sole traders, businesses with up to 10 employees and registered charities can also apply to scrap their van or minibus. Some disabled drivers and vehicle types may also qualify for a grace period (temporary exemption) from the ULEZ.

For more information on the ULEZ expansion, including an interactive map to check your postcode, click here.