London mayor Boris Johnson may say some ridiculous things, but he is genuinely concerned about the environment. While his previous clean-air initiatives promoted practical ideas like cycling and public transport in the capital, his latest pollution busting idea is far fetched to say the least. Johnson has ordered a fleet of trucks to spray adhesive on roads during the night, so that airborne pollution can be captured before it begins harming individuals.

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Johnson’s plan sees the use of a calcium-based solution sprayed on roads — particularly pollution hot spots. It essentially stops pollution from ascending into the atmosphere where it creates a host of problems including respiratory issues.

The project currently sees three trucks dispensing the adhesive between midnight and 6am in London’s worst polluted areas. The roads are first swept and jetwashed by a machine similar to a road dust sweeper, before a solution of calcium and water applied by a modified winter gritting machine with a very fine sprinkler-like system.

Once on the roads, the adhesive is invisible, however, Mayor Johnson insists its impact is crucial. The glue sticks tiny soot-like particles called PM10s to the road. These particles are produced by exhaust fumes, as well as tire and brake wear, and can cause asthma, cardiovascular problems, lung cancer and premature death.

The project, which has been implemented in Victoria Embankment, Euston Road, Earls Court and several other locations in London, has drawn heavy criticism namely from Prof Frank Kelly of King’s College London, who says the technique is a “waste of public money”.

Speaking to the BBC, Professor Kelly, who is an expert on the impact of atmospheric pollution on human health, said: “This does not deal with the problem at source. The moment they stop the spraying, the problem arises (literally) again.”

He (and many others) have said that the mayor is using it as “a sticking plaster solution” designed to avoid fines of up to £300m for failing to comply with EU air quality standards.

“As a health research scientist I am just aghast that they are trying to hide the problem in this way from the European Commission,” Prof Kelly added.

So why is the city doing this? Well, earlier in the year, air pollution in London hit its highest level since 2003, according to official figures. If these levels continue, the city will be in breach of EU pollution standards in 2012.

Hence why the city has spent (reportedly) more than £900,000 on the scheme. But it seems to have had an effect — reports indicate it has led to a 14 percent drop in particulate pollution at hotspots.

Garrett Emmerson, chief operating officer at Transport for London has defended the gluing pollution scheme, saying: “A key priority for the Mayor and TfL is to deliver cleaner air for London through long term measures such as introducing low emission vehicles, using cleaner buses, banning the most polluting taxis and tightening the low emission zone standards, as well as immediate measures agreed with the Department for Transport.”

So depending on who you talk to, it’s either a ridiculous short term solution, or part of a wider, greener plan for the city. Either way, it’s definitely a sticky subject.

+ Transport For London

via BBC News

Images: Mr MPD and sonewfangled