Air Quality Traffic on a busy London street

Published on December 28th, 2011 | by Ravinder Casley Gera


Can “Pollution Glue” Clean Up London’s Dirty Air?

December 28th, 2011 by  

Traffic on a busy London street

London is one of Europe’s dirtiest cities in terms of air quality. Despite the UK capital’s innovative congestion charging scheme, it remains extremely busy with vehicle traffic. A recent study by campaign group Clean Air in London found that 13 schools in the city are situated near roads that carry more than 100,000 cars a day. And, of course, that’s set to increase significantly while the city hosts the Summer Olympics and Paralympics next year. Already, London frequently breaches European Regulations on the level of pollutant particulates, or PM10, allowed in the air.

Now, London’s city government is taking an unusual step to try to reduce the flow of pollutants into the city’s air — coating the busiest roads with “pollution glue” designed to absorb dangerous chemicals out of the air and ‘glue’ them to the tarmac. Transport for London, the agency that runs London’s famous Underground and buses, but also manages its roads, is to trial the use of ‘dust suppressants’ in 15 locations across the city. A solution of calcium magnesium acetate is applied to the roads using a specially-built vehicle with a sprinkler system attached. Calcium magnesium acetate has the effect of attracting fine dust particles in the air and binding them to the road, where they can be picked up by car tires or washed away by rain.

The new scheme expands on trials carried out on two locations in Central London last year. TfL says the previous trials showed dust suppressants could reduce the levels of particulates in their air by 10% in severely polluted areas. The new phase mostly targets roads in industrial areas, but the technology is likely to be extended to areas where pollution comes largely from heavy traffic. “Dust has been a real problem in the area and although it’s early days, indications are that these measures together are having a beneficial effect,” said Susan Wise, a councillor in Lewisham, one of the London boroughs involved in the new trials.

But as is often the case with such slightly sci-fi responses to pollution, the ‘dust glue’ plan has been criticized by green groups, who see it as a poor substitute for more muscular action to clean up air quality in the capital. “Suppressants may achieve compliance in localised areas near monitoring stations and avoid further action from the European Commission, but they address the symptoms and not the causes of the problem,” Alan Andrews of environmental law group Client Earth said in August. A better response is London’s Low Emissions Zone, which requires drivers of high-polluting vehicles such as lorries to pay a daily fee to enter the capital. After several postponements, the LEZ is being extended to larger vans and minibuses in January.

Source: BusinessGreen | Picture: wsuph001 on Flickr

For more on air quality from CleanTechnica, see White House Finalizes Crucial Mercury/Air Pollution Standards.

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About the Author

is a London-based freelance journalist passionate about climate change, development and technology. He has written for the Daily Express,, and the Fly. He blogs at

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  • Tim Henderson

    Rav quotes Susan Wise implying that Lewisham was a borough where dust glue was used in trials last year.

    Has he come across any trial results ?

    The only thing I have seen published are the TfL results from the initial exercise on the Embankment/Upper Thames Street which I thought were pretty flawed – and certainly not good enough to warrant the roll-out to many more sites at a cost of £1.2m.

    The trial struggled to find a decent reference site to compare with the experimental site, it did not use the reference method for PM10 determination and signally failed to discuss any results from the reference method monitor already sited in the test road area.

    It is also odd that the London experts in air quality (London King’s College ERG ) seem to distance themselves from the dust glue trial at every opportunity.

    The technique was developed in Scandinavia to tackle dust from road break-up when cars with snow chains damaged road surfaces – as such I can believe it may have a place to work on construction sites. However, I am sceptical that diesel smuts have much affinity to “dust glue” – and to believe that they do and so mitigate the issue of dirty road traffic in Central London is damaging. London needs inner-city LEZ areas to keep the dirtiest vehicles out of the most-polluted places. Think Berlin.

    • Tim, you are correct and I was wrong – the Lewisham trial (at the Mercury Way industrial site) has only just started. I’ll correct the post.

      The only complete trials are the one you mention on Embankment and another on Marylebone Road. TFL claim a reduction in PM10 of up to 14% from those trials, but they haven’t to my knowledge responded to criticisms such as those you make.

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