Reporter’s Notebook: How’s the Air in London? ‘We Should Be Worried’

By the time I reached São Paulo, I was desperate to get out.

‘It’s Dangerous’

A vast majority of the visitors to Mr. Pinsky’s pollution pods either scrunched up their faces or covered their noses as soon as they breathed in the scent of diesel.

Reporter’s Notebook: How’s the Air in London? ‘We Should Be Worried’
Reporter’s Notebook: How’s the Air in London? ‘We Should Be Worried’

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“It’s nasty,” said Maria Jones, 35, a London resident of 10 years. “You don’t notice it that much out there, maybe because it’s spread out. But if it’s really this bad, then it’s dangerous and we should be worried.”

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Anna Whiston, a 24-year-old paralegal who recently moved to London from the countryside, said the pollution in the city was invisible, but she noticed it through her physical symptoms.

“In the mornings I cough a lot, and when I blow my nose, it’s all dark,” she said.

Visitors generally started slowly in the cleanest air pod and moved faster as the air quality deteriorated. Many coughed and sneezed, and some children cried and ran out.

Meredith Pistulka, 26, who moved to London from Florida this year, kept sneezing even after she left the domes.

“London and Florida have very different air quality,” she said. “I can’t run here. I tried — and I almost died from coughing.”

Photo

Somerset House raised a new Union Jack flag that will change color as it reacts to London’s air quality in real time.Credit Peter Macdiarmid for Somerset House

Ms. Pistulka and her boyfriend said they recently bought plants to help improve the air quality in their apartment.

“I don’t think Londoners realize just how bad the problem is,” said Madeline Corbett, a medical student who visited the pods for a second time. “Politicians talk about the issue when it’s at its peak and then people quickly forget. We need more exhibitions like this to make the issue visible to the public.”

‘A Blackened Union Jack’

Mr. Pinsky said people’s experiences in the pods were subjective and depended on what levels of pollution they were exposed to daily. He recalled the experience of one couple from a rural part of Ireland who started gagging when they entered the New Delhi room and had to exit immediately.

The pods are climatically controlled and contain various levels of ozone, particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide.

Somerset House was chosen for the installation, which will end on Wednesday, because “this courtyard was deliberately built with no nature in it to demonstrate how mankind could make something more beautiful than nature,” Mr. Pinsky said.

To mark Earth Day, Somerset House raised a new Union Jack flag that will change color as it reacts to London’s air quality in real time. The flag, created by the artist Lauren Bowker, will transform from red, white and blue to gray and black as it reacts to levels of radiation exposure.

“A blackened Union Jack,” Ms. Corbett remarked as she drew a picture of the flag in her notebook. “That’s so symbolic of what will happen to us if we don’t act soon.”

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