Anti-pollution guerrilla road signs for Brixton

The ‘guerilla signs’ in English and Bengali

Brixton is one of the places where young activists will mount a campaign of guerrilla road signs at pollution hotspots, warning that “breathing kills”.

Choked Up, a group of Black and brown teens from South London, were spurred into action by the inquest into the death of Ella Kissi-Debrah which, in a landmark ruling, said last December that toxic air directly contributed to her death.

Ella, who lived near the South Circular Road in Lewisham, died in 2013.

Choked Up is backed by a letter signed by 100 London NHS medics calling for more action to reduce air pollution and the Mums for Lungs campaign which began life locally.

It quotes research released today (11 March) by the Environmental Defense Fund Europe that shows deadly nitrous dioxide (NO2) pollution is, on average, between 24 and 31% higher in areas where people from Black, Asian or minority ethnic backgrounds are most likely to live, compared to areas where white people are most likely to live.

Further, the most deprived Londoners are more than six times more likely to live in areas with higher pollution than the least deprived.

Anjali Raman-Middleton, a 17-year-old co-founder of Choked Up, said: “The landmark ruling of the Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah inquest proved that the road I live less than five minutes from can kill.

“I am terrified that my daily commute to school along the South Circular has already had a negative impact on my lungs.

“I urge London mayoral election candidates to commit to transform these roads to give me and my generation a greener future.”

young woman by main road
Anjali Raman-Middleton by the South Circular in Lewisham. Picture: Lola Malini Raman-Middleton

The NHS health professionals’ letter says that air pollution is having a “devastating impact” on health, particularly for various communities of colour and those from deprived backgrounds.

It was coordinated by Medact, a coalition of health professionals campaigning on health inequalities, particularly those linked to the environment.

King’s College Hospital respiratory consultant Dr Laura-Jane Smith said: “The levels of air pollution across the capital are nothing short of a public health emergency.

“There are far too many people in our hospital wards and clinics who might otherwise be healthy if it wasn’t for the toxic air they breathe.

“Air pollution affects every single one of us from birth to old age, but we know the least well-off and marginalised communities, including those from Black and Asian backgrounds are being hardest hit.

“If we are serious about tackling health inequalities in our capital city, we need to urgently address the air pollution crisis.

“We are emerging now from one of the worst health crises this country has ever faced and are now sleep-walking right into another one.

“Action we take today will have immediate benefits. This can’t wait.”

Large open air poster on roadside
A new poster in Putney launched by Mums for Lungs and Choked Up with giant artificial lungs that will go grey as pollution levels rise. Picture: Environmental Defense Fund Europe

The guerilla signs have been placed on London Red Routes. The routes were established in the early 90s to improve traffic flow are controlled by the mayor of London.

They represent aboyut 5% of London roads but carry up to a third of the city’s traffic on an average day.

People living, working, and going to school near these roads are breathing higher, and often illegal, levels of air pollution, the campaigners say.


NO2 pollution levels on Red Routes are 57% higher than an average road and levels of dangerous particulates (PM2.5) are 35% higher.

Campaigners are calling on all candidates in the mayoral elections in May to transform Red Routes with “a fresh approach to freight” and firm targets to reduce car use in the capital.

“Rethinking the Red Routes will require a world-class walking and cycling network, as well as affordable and accessible zero-emission public transport,” they said.

“For years, the major Red Routes have been a toxic thread running through our communities, polluting the doorsteps of homes and kids’ playgrounds,” Oliver Lord, head of policy and campaigns at Environmental Defense Fund Europe, said.

Pollution protest on major road
Mums for Lungs protest outside Brixton Tube

The campaign is also backed by parent campaigners Mums for Lungs, who memorably blocked Brixton Road to get their point across.

Member Jemima Hartshorn, a parent who lives in Herne Hill, said: “The street signs are hard-hitting because we want people to take notice of the huge damage being done to their health by air pollution.

“It is crucial that the message is heeded by politicians. If we do not take action on air inequality there will be more and more hospital admission and sadly more needless deaths of children.”