High air pollution levels hit south-east England

Air pollution is expected to be high on Thursday over the south-east of England, leading to warnings to people with respiratory difficulties.

The pollution is likely to be localised, with clear skies over Scotland as people cast their ballots in the independence referendum.

The pollution in the south-east is the result of weeks of low pressure, according to the Met Office, which has drawn in polluted air from the continent. Today’s levels are thought not to be as bad as those that hit England this spring, when dust from the Sahara combined with continental pollution and high levels of smog that led to some of the worst pollution of recent years, with warnings to vulnerable people, including older people and children, to stay indoors.

However, the official health advice for pollution at today’s levels in the south-east is for adults and children with lung and heart problems to reduce physical exertion, and asthma sufferers have been warned they may need their inhaler more than usual.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said in a statement: “Moderate levels of air pollution are forecast for central and southern England as well as eastern Wales. High levels may also be observed across parts of south-east and southern England. This is due to stable conditions and easterly winds bringing pollution across from the near continent.

“Scotland, Northern Ireland and much of northern England are expected to see low evels of air pollution although isolated pockets of moderate [pollution] are possible in urban or industrial areas.”

UK air pollution forecast for 18 September 2014
UK air pollution forecast for 18 September 2014 Photograph: UK Air / Defra

The Met Office said it was not possible to compare current pollution levels with cities such as Beijing, as such international comparisons would have to wait for longer-term reports to be drawn up.

Today’s pollution is likely to be short-lived, the Met Office told the Guardian, and may dissipate as soon as tomorrow as weather conditions change. “We are due for some rain and that should wash the worst of it away,” a spokeswoman said.

Defra said the pollution was not likely to be as bad as that experienced in the spring.

Air pollution is a growing problem, as the UK is in breach of European regulations on the issue, with many cities not expected to be within safe levels by 2030, and faces heavy fines as a result. The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has proposed measures such as higher congestion charging and restrictions on polluting diesel vehicles, but these will not enter into effect for several years.

Campaigners have criticised the government for failing to adhere to European standards, and an influential select committee of MPs earlier this week was scathing of the government’s efforts on the problem.

The Environmental Audit Committee said that emissions of a number of airborne pollutants increased in 2013, after being steady between 2010 and 2012 and in a longer term decline before that.

Joan Walley, chair of the committee, said: “A whole generation of young people in our cities will potentially have their health impaired by pollution before the government meets air quality safety standards. That is not acceptable. We need to see much more urgent action in this area and we will be looking at this area in more detail when we publish the results of our inquiry later this year.”

via High air pollution levels hit south-east England | Environment | theguardian.com.

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