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Paving the way for pollution control

Westminster pavement
Best foot forward to keep cities clean  

LONDON, England (CNN) -- Officials in the congested heart of London may soon be taking their fight against urban pollution to the streets.

They are planning to lay down Japanese-pioneered pavings stones that are said to reduce pollution by literally sucking toxins out of the air.

Westminster City Council, whose 400-mile jurisdiction of pavement embraces landmarks like Big Ben and Houses of Parliament, is in talks with Mitsubishi Materials Corporation to test the company's titanium-coated paving stones on its storied thoroughfares.

Trials are expected to start early next year. If successful, the council would then begin repaving selected footways over the next few years with the pollution-absorbing slabs.

"This is an innovative approach to the age-old problem of pollution, particularly on the kerbside," said council official Frixos Tombolis.

The titanium coating on the stones reacts with sunlight to break down and soak up nitrogen oxide emissions from passing traffic. The emissions are then re-released into the atmosphere as environmentally harmless traces of nitrogen and oxygen.

In Japan, the slabs, first tested in Osaka more than three years ago, have supplanted generic pavement stones in 50 towns across the country, according to Akio Hamaji, a general manager for overseas distribution with Mitsubishi Materials.

Hamaji said the technology has found a fertile market in a country where environmental issues have seized the political limelight. In one town, the paving blocks are just one prong in an anti-pollution drive that includes toxin-reducing paint on highway walls.

Paying for paving

One of Japan's largest supermarket chains, Jusco, has paved its car parks with the company's light grey stones as part of a broader campaign to project an environmentally friendly image.

Hamaji said his firm had received dozens of inquiries, mostly from research institutes and commercial manufacturers, since Mitsubishi Materials first publicised the technology worldwide two years ago.

Westminster is the first overseas municipal authority to actively consider using the paving stones on its own streets, he added.

Council official Tombolis told CNN.com that he views the paving slabs as a potentially cost-effective and relatively unintrusive way to combat pollution.

One square metre of the Japanese paving stones costs 58 ($85). That is more than double the cost of a single square metre of the pre-cast concrete paving, known as ASP, used on most of Westminster's streets. But it is significantly less than another, less prevalent, variety of paving, York Stone, that costs 95 ($133) a square metre, or the even more unusual pink Siberian Granite stones (200 or $280) that grace Leicester Square.

In the last financial year, Westminster Council spent about 2.5 million ($3.5 million) relaying footpaths.

Tombolis warns that the pavement stones are not -- a point Mitsubishi Materials itself readily concedes.

"We've got to remember it doesn't suck out all the fumes," said Tombolis. "It doesn't deal with greenhouse gases or hydrocarbons. If I'd been told that this sucks up all pollution I'd be extremely suspicious."

From CNN.com Europe.



RELATED STORIES:
Getting out of a Rut: The 20th Century
Virginia's 'smart road' is a laboratory on pavement
August 25, 2000

RELATED SITES:
Westminster City Council
Mitsubishi Materials Corporation

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