Main causes of air pollution

Air pollution due to human activity is mainly caused by emissions from road traffic, industrial, commercial and domestic sources.


Vehicle exhaust fumes are the main cause of air pollution in Southwark. We have several arterial routes and major roads that have heavy traffic flows both to and from central London. The following help to reduce emissions from individual vehicles when installed, used and maintained:

  • cleaner fuels 
  • catalytic converters
  • particulate filters

 However, not all vehicles have these.

Industrial activities

The SELCHP waste incinerator in Lewisham is the closest industrial producer of air pollution to us and is regulated by the Environment Agency.

We regulate the emissions from smaller processes and commercial activities such as crematoriums, print works, petrol stations and dry cleaners.

These processes are within the Local Authority Pollution Control regime.

Construction sites

Construction and demolition works can cause dust, fumes and solvent pollution. We've produced a technical guide to demolition and construction  for contractors and developers.

Heating, hot water and energy use

All offices, working environments and residential properties in the borough need heating, hot water and electricity. The production of these involves creating pollutants into the air.

We require a Sustainability Assessment for all new building developments in the borough to get planning permission.

This was introduced in the Local Plan.

Domestic smoke

Do you burn wood or coal? Southwark is a Smoke Control Area. There are strict controls on burning wood and coal for heating. It is an offence to burn wood or coal in an open fireplace or a stove not approved by the government. It is an offence to cause visible smoke from a chimney. You could be fined or prosecuted. It is bad for your health and contributes to climate change. Twitter @lb_southwark

All of the borough is a designated Smoke Control Area. This means that:

Fine particles in wood and coal smoke damage health by causing asthma, heart attacks and strokes. Older, younger and unwell people are at greatest risk. More than half of harmful fine particles in London come from domestic wood and coal burning.


Bonfires and any burning in the open generate smoke and odour. The plume will affect neighbouring properties making health issues worse, spoiling washing, preventing the enjoyment of gardens and outside spaces, making people close their windows, etc.

Do not dispose of waste by burning. The whole borough is a designated Smoke Control Zone. Instead, re-cycle as much of your waste as possible. Find out more about:

Trans-boundary pollution

Once in the air, pollution can move across land boundaries from one region to another and one country to another. For example the polluted air from London causes Ozone problems for agriculture in East Anglia, air pollution from Eastern Europe and the Ruhr area in Germany affects South East England and London, radiation from accidental releases at Chernobyl and Fukushima has been detected at both the North and South polar ice caps and air pollution from the power stations in the North and East of England has caused acid rain in Scandinavia.

Page last updated: 30 May 2022

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