History and the Environment 7: The first clean air regulations…….in 1306


London of the 12th and 13th centuries was already becoming a crowded place.  The cold winter weather along with burning massive amounts of wood for the production of metals and interestingly enough mead, caused a shift in the burning of wood in the capital, to burning the first vestiges of sea-coal found of the English coast.  Because London somewhat lays in a “bowl” geographically, it is very easy for an inversion of temperature to cause massive pollution in the city.  Think of it like this.  When some gets a cold and they put water in a bowl with menthol and cover their head with a towel and huff the fumes.  Well that bowl was and still is London today.  London is famous for its smog.  It is written about in many novels escpecailly the Sherlock Holmes variety.  Back to story.  When England first started burning sea-coal in the 1000-1100 year range, the skies around the city would fill up with a black smoke that caused all kinds of environmental problems.  Health problems and soot problems.  Enter Edward “Longshanks” I (King of England 1296-1307).  Edward watched his mother struggle with the respiratory problems associated with the coal-burning; she even left the palace to stay in the countryside.  He essentially passed the first environmental law ever.  In 1306 he banned coal-burning under penalty of death.  This did not stop the populace from burning coal.  Fast forward 800 years.  In December 1952, London had the worst smog attack ever.  This smog attack occurred like the many other ones that had come over the centuries, but this time a freak weather event caused the smog to stick around for 5 days, in which a record number (12,000) or so people died.  This led to the Clean Air Acts of 1956 and 1958 which greatly reduced pollution in London.

bibliography: Wise, William.  Killer Smog:  The Worlds Worst Air Pollution Disaster. iUniverse. Bloomington, In. 2001.

About deadfryday

I dig History and its preservation
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