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London Fog 1952 Mystery Solved Using China Pollution Data to ID Sulfuric Acid as Killer of 4,000

Image: London Fog 1952 Mystery Solved Using China Pollution Data to ID Sulfuric Acid as Killer of 4,000

(Texas A&M University)

By    |   Tuesday, 13 Dec 2016 06:56 AM

The London fog mystery of 1952 which killed 4,000 people may have been solved by researchers using data from modern day pollution in China. The culprit? Sulfuric acid.

The deadly fog that covered London that December also hospitalized more than 150,000 others, according to the Daily Mail, which said later research put the fog's death toll beyond 12,000.

Researchers have always pointed to burning coal as the contaminant, but never could identify the chemical processes that caused such a dangerous mixture in the air.

"People have known that sulfate was a big contributor to the fog, and sulfuric acid particles were formed from sulfur dioxide released by coal burning for residential use and power plants, and other means," said Texas A&M University researcher and professor Renyi Zhang.

"But how sulfur dioxide was turned into sulfuric acid was unclear," Zhang explained. "Our results showed that this process was facilitated by nitrogen dioxide, another co-product of coal burning, and occurred initially in natural fog."

"Another key aspect in the conversion of sulfur dioxide to sulfate is that it produces acidic particles, which subsequently inhibits this process. Natural fog contained larger particles of several tens of micrometers in size, and the acid formed was sufficiently diluted. Evaporation of those fog particles then left smaller acidic haze particles that covered the city."

The findings by Zhang, graduate researchers and others from China, Israel, and the United Kingdom, were published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The air quality in numerous cities in China is similar to London's killer fog, said the researchers, per Live Science, which said 16 of the world's 20 most polluted cities are in China, including its capital of Beijing.

Researchers said, however, that China's smog is made up of smaller nanoparticles than what created the London fog.

"In China, sulfur dioxide is mainly emitted by power plants," said Zhang. "Nitrogen dioxide is from power plants and automobiles, and ammonia comes from fertilizer use and automobiles. Again, the right chemical processes have to interplay for the deadly haze to occur in China. Interestingly, while the London fog was highly acidic, contemporary Chinese haze is basically neutral."

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The London fog mystery of 1952 which killed 4,000 people may have been solved by researchers using data from modern day pollution in China. The culprit? Sulfuric acid.
london, fog, mystery, solved
360
2016-56-13
Tuesday, 13 Dec 2016 06:56 AM
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