Pollution from planes using Heathrow airport has been detected in central London, researchers revealed today.

A breakthrough study by King’s College London is the first to find that airports are a major source of ultra-fine particles that are harmful to health.

Results from air quality monitoring stations in north Kensington and in Marylebone Road — about 14 miles from the airport — were used to estimate levels of the particles in the air.

These were greatest when blown in from the airport on a westerly wind.

Ultra-fine particles are produced by fuel burning and are a subset of PM2.5 particles that are most commonly emitted from traffic brakes and tyres.

The smaller the particle, the deeper they can penetrate into the lungs. Ultra-fine particles have been linked to brain cancer.

The King’s study, in Environment International, measured emissions from four European airports — the others were Barcelona, Zurich and Helsinki — between 2007-17.

Heathrow was chosen instead of other airports serving London due to its proximity to the detectors used by the London Air Quality Network.

It had the highest concentration of ultra-fine particles compared with the three continental airports.

Traffic emissions remain the biggest source of ultra-fine particles. At airports, they occur when planes are taxiing into position, flying low and especially when taking off.

While there are EU restrictions on PM2.5 vehicle emissions, the same controls do not exist for aircraft.

Dr Ioar Rivas, author of the study, said: “We expected traffic emissions to be an important source of ultra-fine particles in cities but we now know that airport emissions, even if located at the outskirts of the city, can travel far enough and reach population in urban areas.”

Researchers said PM pollution sources needed to be “disentangled” to create policies to cut emissions. The study will now assess the impact of particles on hospital admissions and mortality.

Dr Gary Fuller, senior lecturer in air pollution measurement at King’s, said: “Cities around Europe have policies to reduce airborne particles from traffic…but aircraft emissions are not being addressed in the same way.”




See earlier:

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