Air Pollution
Clean Air for Kids

History of Air Pollution in the UK


Concern about urban air quality is not new. Complaints were recorded in the 13th century when coal was first used in London. Since the middle of the 19th century, the atmosphere of the major British cities was regularly polluted by coal smoke in winter, giving rise to an infamous mixture of fog and smoke known as smog. Today the emphasis has shifted from the pollution problems caused by industry to the ones associated with motor vehicle emissions. The following pages show in chronological order the major pieces of legislation passed in the UK since 1845 with regards to combating air pollution in urban areas.

Use of coal prohibited in London as being "prejudicial to health".

1306 - Royal Proclamation:
Prohibiting artificers (craftsmen) from using sea-coal (a soft coal) in their furnaces.

1845 - Railway Clauses Consolidated Act:
Required railway engines to consume their own smoke.

1847 - The Improvement Clauses Act:
Contained a section dealing with factory smoke.

1863 - Alkali, etc. Works Regulation Act:
Required that 95% of the offensive emissions should be arrested.

1866 - The Sanitary Act:
Empowered sanitary authorities to take action in cases of smoke nuisances.

1875 - The Public Health Act:
Contained a section on smoke abatement from which legislation to the present day has been based.

1906 - The Alkali, etc. Works Regulation Act:
It extended and consolidated previous Acts and embodied the prevention of discharge of noxious or offensive gases from scheduled works by the use of best practicable means.

1926 - Public Health (Smoke Abatement) Act:
By which the Acts of 1875 and 1891 were amended and extended.

First smokeless zone and prior approval legislation.

1956 - Clean Air Act:
Introduced Smoke control Areas, controlled chimney heights. Prohibited emission of dark smoke from chimneys, with some exceptions.

1968 - Clean Air Act:
Extended the smoke control provisions of the 1956 Act and added further prohibitions on dark smoke emission.

1970 - EC Directive 70/220/EEC:
Relating to measures to be taken against air pollution by gases from positive ignition engines of motor vehicles. Limited emissions of CO and hydrocarbons from petrol engines. Came into force in 1971.

1972 - EC Directive 72/306/EEC:
Measures to be taken against emissions from diesel engines for use in motor vehicles. Limited black smoke emissions from heavy duty vehicles.

Motor Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1973.

1974 - Control of Pollution Act:
Allowed for the regulation of the composition of motor fuels. In addition the Act limited the amount of sulphur in fuel oil.

1975 - EC Directive 75/441/EEC:
Set up a procedure for exchanging air quality information between Member States. Repealed in 1982.

1975 - EC Directive 75/716/EEC:
Concerned with the sulphur content of certain liquid fuels. Defined two types of gas oil (diesel and heating oil). Introduced in two stages, sulphur limits for these fuels. Amended in 1987: EC Directive 87/219/EEC: (1) The motor fuel (sulphur content of gas oil), (2) the oil fuel (sulphur content of gas).

1978 - EC Directive 78/611/EEC:
Concerning the lead content of petrol. Limited the maximum permissible lead content of petrol to 0.4gl-1.

1979: International Convention on Long Range Transboundary Pollution:
Introduced to contol the transboundary effects of acid rain and to limit emission of acidifying pollutants.

1980 - EC Directive 80/779/EEC:
Air quality limit values and guide values for sulphur dioxide and suspended particles.

1981 - The Motor Fuel (Lead content of Petrol) Regulation:
Limited the maximum amount of lead in petrol to 0.4gl-1.

1982 - EC Directive 82/884/EEC:
Limit value for lead in the air.

1984 - Directive 84/360/EEC:
Establishes a common framework directive on combating pollution from industrial plants throughout the Community.

1985 - EC Directive 85/210/EEC:
Allowed for the introduction of unleaded petrol.

1987 - EC Directive 88/77/EC:
Specified the measures to be taken against the emission of gaseous pollutants from diesel engines for use in vehicles. Controlled emissions of gaseous pollutants from heavy duty vehicles. AMENDED 1991:
(EC Directive 91/542EEC).

1988 - EC Directive 88/609/EEC:
Limited emissions of SO2 and NOx and particulates from power stations and other large combustion plants.

1989 - EC Directive 89/427/EEC:
Limit values and guide values of air quality for sulphur dioxide and suspended particulates. Harmonised measurement methods.

1989 - The Air Quality Standards Regulations:
Brought into UK law as the limit and guide values for SO2 and suspended particulates, lead in air and nitrogen dioxide set by EC.

1989 - EC Directive 89/429/EEC:
Directive on air pollution from existing municipal waste incinerators. Set limits on new waste incinerators.

1989 - EC Directive 89/369/EEC:
Directive on air pollution from new municipal waste incinerators. Set emission limits on new waste incinerator.

1990 - Environmental Protection Act:
Brings many smaller emission sources under air pollution control by local authorities for the first time and establishes a system of integrated pollution control for the most potentially polluting industrial processes.

1991 - The Road Vehicles Regulations:
Set standards for in service emissions of carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons to be included in the MOT test for petrol cars and light goods vehicles.

1992 - EC Directive 92/72/EEC:
Air pollution by ozone. Establishes a harmonised procedure for monitoring, exchange of information and warnings to be issued to the public about ozone pollution.

1995 - The Environment Act:
This provides a new statutory framework for local air quality management. The Act requires publication of a National Strategy which will set air quality standards and targets for the pollutants of most concern.

1996 EC Directive 96/62/EC:
This provides a new statutory framework for controlling levels of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, particulate matter, lead and ozone, benzene, carbon monoxide, and other hydrocarbons.

1997 - The National Air Quality Strategy:
The final version of the National Air Quality Strategy was published in response to The Environment Act on March 12th 1997, with commitments to achieve new air quality objectives throughout the UK by 2005. It is reviewed periodically.

2000: The Air Quality Strategy for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland:
The second National Air Quality Strategy was published with new air quality objectives for local authorities.