Air pollution to spread across the UK

02/04/2014

The government have released health advice after warnings that pollution is spreading across the UK and will hit even higher levels in the future.

The warnings were issued after high pollution levels were recorded on Tuesday and the pollution, which is a mix of local and European emissions and dust from the Sahara, is forecast in parts of South England, the Midlands and East Anglia.

Of those the most affected, the elderly and those with lung or heart disease have been urged to avoid strenuous exercise outdoors.

Defra measure the quality of air using a 10-point scale, with 1 meaning there is a ‘low’ risk of air pollution and 10 warning of ‘very high’ levels.

On Wednesday levels were recorded at 6 – meaning moderate – in East Anglia and the South East, with pollution readings reaching level 5 in London and areas of north-east England.

However, forecasters have said that it is possible for pollution levels to reach high levels on Thursday, before clearing on Friday.

The BBC weather said have said that the highest recordings are likely to be in East Anglia and the East Midlands. In addition, moderate to high air pollution levels are also forecast for large parts of southern and central England.

In parts of Wales, areas around Wirral and Merseyside, as well as Devon, levels are likely to be moderate.

Dr Paul Cosford from Public Health England told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that pollution levels were “clearly a serious issue”.

However, he said it was “important we don’t get it out of proportion”.

He said the “vast majority” of people would suffer no harm from the pollution levels, but said people with health issues should take extra care.

Andrew Sibley, specialist forecaster for the Met Office, said: “Conditions are going to get worse again as we go through Wednesday and the rest of the week.”

He said that a south-easterly wind would bring with it yet more pollution from Europe, and further compound the situation in the UK.

Mr Sibley said that dust and sand particles from the Saharan desert could easily get swept up by high winds and carried thousands of miles across the globe.

“The dust gets caught by rain particles and that’s how it ends up being visible on the ground,” he said.

According to the World Health Organisation, air pollution is the world’s single biggest environmental health risk and is linked to approximately 7 million deaths a year, with most of those deaths coming from heart and lung diseases.

The causes are outdoor pollution from traffic and industry, and indoor pollution from dirty stoves. However the risks are increased as dirty air is an invisible threat, and it’s taken a wind from the Sahara to blow it into UK headlines.

The wind lifts desert dust high into the clouds several times a year and provides vital fertiliser for the ocean and even the Amazon forest.

But in the UK it is combining with high levels of local air pollution to irritate people’s lungs, especially those with heart or lung disease and the elderly.

The episode may draw attention to the government’s long-term failure to reduce air pollution after the EU launched legal proceedings against the UK for failing to reduce “excessive” levels of nitrogen dioxide air pollution, mostly from traffic, after 15 years of warnings.

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