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What is in the dirty Underground dust?

Islington’s tube stations are among the capital’s filthiest

21 February, 2020 — By Sam Ferguson

Finsbury Park station – among the ‘dirtiest’ for dust. Photo: Sunil060902

TUBE network chiefs have come under pressure to reveal exactly what is in the air breathed by passengers, as Islington stations were identified as among the “dirtiest” in the city for harmful tube dust.

A government report last year said that a fine dust, known as Pm2.5, found in the tube network was “likely” to be harmful to health.

Levels of the fine particle dust were discovered to be 30 times higher in the Underground than beside some of London’s busiest roads.

The government used the report to call on Transport for London to check for metals including arsenic and chromium in the dust, which has been linked to lung, nasal or sinus cancer.

Last Tuesday the London Assembly urged for its findings to be made public as soon as possible.

Six Islington stations were previously identified by TfL as among the “dirtiest” for dust levels in the capital: Finsbury Park, King’s Cross, Highbury and Islington, Holloway, Arsenal and Caledonian Road.

Speaking to the Tribune, the London Assembly member and Green Party councillor for Highbury East, Caroline Russell, said: “The Victoria line was ranked as one of the worst lines for tube dust in a report published this year.

“We need TfL to be open and transparent about the issue of tube dust on the Underground network.

“Whilst one tube line might not have as much dust as others, TfL needs to make all this information available. The depth of station tunnels makes a huge difference to how polluted the air is.

“TfL should publish all information relating to tube dust including which lines are the most polluted and its strategy for ensuring that it is tackling the areas of the network that need the most attention.”

She added: “Londoners have the right to know what’s in the dust that they are breathing in whilst using the Underground.

“Worryingly, the levels of harmful particles in the dust such as arsenic and chromium VI are un­known. This information is urgently needed to protect both workers and passengers on the tube network.

“And while we welcome the work that TfL has commissioned on this issue already, more needs to be done. It’s unacceptable that we don’t know the full make-up of tube dust and the health implications for passengers and workers.”

The London Assembly has asked TfL to respond to its letter by February 28.

Responding, TfL’s safe­ty chief, Lilli Matson, said: “We are doing all we can to ensure that the air on the tube is as clean as possible. The particulates found there are very different to those found above ground, which are known to be carcinogens.

“Those below ground are not known to have the same adverse health effects. We know that further research is needed, which is why we are funding academics to conduct studies and gain a better understanding of the health risks associated with air on the tube.

She added: “We spend around £60million every year cleaning our trains, stations and tunnels, are trialling innovative new approaches to reducing dust levels, and will continue to do everything we can to keep the air as clean as possible for our staff and customers.”


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