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Could giant vacuums and magnetic wands clean up the air on the tube?

By Alice French
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Never one to rest on his laurels, London Mayor Sadiq Khan has got a new plan to tackle air pollution on the tube – and it involves vacuums and magnetic wands.

The mayor and TfL already have plans to launch the world’s first Ultra Low Emission Zone in 2019 and introduce a £10 Toxicity Charge (T-Charge) as early as October this year, which is great for keeping emissions out of the city. But what about the pollutants that permanently exist there, like the horrible dust on the tube?

According to research commissioned by TfL in 2004, this dust is predominantly made up of metal particles from the friction against the rails on the train, air ventilated into the tube from above ground and skin particles from passengers – lovely stuff.

To get rid of this unappealing dust, Khan and TfL have proposed a series of interesting, and hopefully effective, techniques. Among these is using large, industrial vacuums to suck away the majority of filth, and using magnetic ‘wands’ to remove all the metal debris in the air. Like an extremely practical fairy godmother: ‘Commuter, you shall go to work – and with clean air in your lungs.’

The 2004 dataset that is currently being referred to by TfL for air pollution guidelines states that the dust on the tube is different to that above ground and not as harmful to those travelling.

But Sadiq has asked TfL to update the statistics (2004 was more than ten years ago, after all) and the findings of this new research will help prioritise future action towards making the air squeaky clean.

In other news, these thermal images show how hot the tube was on the hottest day of the year.

Photo: Edwin Jones

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