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Modern Mysteries

What was behind the 1952 London killer fog ?

By T.K. Randall
November 16, 2016 · Comment icon 11 comments

The fog proved fatal to thousands of people living in the city. Image Credit: CC BY-SA 4.0 George Tsiagalakis
64 years ago, a thick blanket of smog covered the city of London and killed more than 12,000 people.
The worst air pollution event in European history, the disaster saw the entire city shrouded in a layer of choking fog for five whole days. The sky became dark, visibility was reduced to around three feet, transportation systems ground to a halt and tens of thousands experienced problems breathing.

The fog, which ultimately killed over 12,000 and hospitalized a further 150,000, was thought to have been caused by emissions from coal burning, however exactly what combination of circumstances had managed to produce such a deadly, noxious fume has long remained something of a mystery.

Now though, scientists in China believe that they may have finally found the answer.

Their research, which drew upon studies of the pollution issues experienced by Chinese cities, suggests that sulfur dioxide in the air may have been turned in to sulfuric acid thanks to nitrogen dioxide - another coal burning co-product - which interacted initially with natural fog in the air.
When the fog particles eventually evaporated they left behind a deadly acidic haze.

"The difference in China is that the haze starts from much smaller nanoparticles, and the sulfate formation process is only possible with ammonia to neutralize the particles," they wrote.

"In China, sulfur dioxide is mainly emitted by power plants, nitrogen dioxide is from power plants and automobiles, and ammonia comes from fertilizer use and automobiles."

"Again, the right chemical processes have to interplay for the deadly haze to occur in China. Interestingly, while the London fog was highly acidic, contemporary Chinese haze is neutral."

Source: | Comments (11)

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Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #2 Posted by Merc14 8 years ago
I read a great book, a murder mystery if I remember correctly (maybe the title was Visibility?) that featured this event.  It was a weather pattern combined with the coal burning haze that was the base cause. 
Comment icon #3 Posted by Astral Hillbilly 8 years ago
I'd never heard of this happening. Interesting.
Comment icon #4 Posted by Black Monk 8 years ago
Oh yeah. London was famous for her "pea-soupers". The one of 1952 was the worst of them.
Comment icon #5 Posted by Noxasa 8 years ago
LOL...yes, Chinese smog is neutral. Next they'll be saying it's good for you. Gotta love communist propaganda. Sounds like the tobacco industry in the 50's and 60's. LOL.
Comment icon #6 Posted by freetoroam 8 years ago
Do not know what all the fuss is about, all you got to do is wear one and these and jobs a gooden. 
Comment icon #7 Posted by paperdyer 8 years ago
Well if we don't, freetoroam,we'll all look like your avatar.
Comment icon #8 Posted by Susanc241 8 years ago
I was four in 1952 and lived in west London. While I don't have a memory of this particular years fog, I do remember a bad one or two in the following few years before the results of the 'Clean Air Act' kicked in. Weird experience. Sound muffled and noise direction seemed warped. Fog had a sort of greenish yellowish hue, hence the soubrequet of 'pea souper'.
Comment icon #9 Posted by Four Winds 8 years ago
Wow, this many comments and no fart jokes.  Well done, the people of UM.
Comment icon #10 Posted by poohbear 8 years ago
Last one I remember was in Nottingham around '63...Conductors walking in front of the buses so the driver could follow them.I remember driving myself and having to turn headlights off because the light was just reflected back into a solid wall.....I drove leaning out the window so I could hear anything coming the other way....and just make out the white line.
Comment icon #11 Posted by Codenwarra 7 years ago
Burning of coal in domestic and industrial fireplaces and furnaces combined with ordinary fog is the answer.  This has been known for 60 plus years.     

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