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ot many people are aware of “The Great Smog” from 1952, an event that came as mysteriously as it left. What was curious is that over 12,000 people died that day due to the smog and for over 60 years people didn’t understand what exactly brought the smog and why so many people died.

An event like no other

On the 5th of December 1952, London was full of people that began to do their shopping for the festive Christmas events. Back in the day, stores were running quite quickly out of stock for Christmas due to the high demand on short notice. London was quite full, but this is nothing out of the ordinary for capital such as London.

The Fog Service in Force notice at Paddington Station, London, 1952 (Source: Bygonely)

During the afternoon, smog quickly covered the whole city. The smog was so thick that it limited visibility to only 10 meters in front, making the traffic unbearable. The smog also came with a terrible smell, some people described the smell as similar to a rotten egg.

London double-decker bus, during the Great Smog of 1952 (Source: Bygonely)

People didn’t pay too much attention as they thought it was just a bad weather forecast and the smell was coming and going. Everyone thought that it will pass after a day, but it didn’t. In the morning on the 6th of December, London woke up to a green sky, a smog that became even thicker, and a smell that was even worst.

Scots Guards march towards Buckingham Palace to take up sentry duty during the Great Smog of 1952 (Source: Bygonely)

On the 7th of December, as the smog kept thickening, the air became heavier, making it very difficult to breathe outdoors. People who had lung problems were already in the hospital seeking help as they were either constantly out of breath, or were not able to stop coughing. In the image above you can barely see Buckingham palace from within its gates and for those that are local to London or have visited Buckingham palace, you can tell how thick the smog must have been.

Police-constable John Finn, on duty at Old Bailey wears one of the special smog masks issued to members of the London Police force, 1952 (Source: Bygonely)

Thankfully, on the 9th of December, the smog started to fade, but by that time over 150,000 people were hospitalized and over 12,000 had died due to health complications, most of them previously had lung problems. No medical expert was able to determine what had caused the smog, the speculations were that something increased the high levels of toxicity within the air, explaining the terrible smell.

The cause after 60 years

A series of academic papers within the medical industry has risen in the 2000s describing exactly what caused the smog and the health implications it had on those who were affected as well as those who sadly passed away. What happened was that a huge mass of cold air from the north had invaded London’s atmosphere and in combination with all the heat produced by the vast amounts of chimneys burning during December, forced this cold air mass to stay at ground level.

Due to the thickness of the smog, it carried around a lot more of the toxins from the burning coals within homes as well as factories. To be more precise, the sulfate dioxide produced from burning low-quality coal was turned by the cold air into sulphuric acid through a process stimulated by azote dioxide, highly dangerous if someone is inhaling it.

Another thing to point out is the high level of pollution in London at that current time. It was actually a peak for the industrial zone where the government was fighting to move some of the factories within the city as it was causing huge pollution, but with not much luck. At the time people thought that the high level of pollution is what caused the smog and the death of so many people, but this wasn’t necessarily the case. Since the event, pollution within London kept rising without the reappearance of smog.

This whole process made the air within London very toxic and those who didn’t were a mask outdoors or had lung problems were destined to die without even knowing. It took over 60 years for Science to untangle this mess, but it’s good they did. Researchers from this case are saying that this sort of event can occur anywhere in the world at any time.

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