Air pollution spike across England sparks warning from health charities

Dirtiest air expected to hit Brighton, Eastbourne and Hastings, where older people and children have been urged to avoid any strenuous activity at all

A major spike in air pollution across much of England poses a risk to those suffering from respiratory diseases, older people and children, health charities warned on Friday.

The government pushed its smog alert levels to “very high” – its most extreme pollution warning – for some parts of south east England.

In Brighton, Eastbourne and Hastings the official advice is for all residents – regardless of their health – to reduce their physical exertion. Older people and children on Easter school holidays have been urged to avoid any strenuous activity at all.

In other areas of England, particularly the south east and Midlands, the smog levels will be high enough to cause problems for those with pre-existing problems.

Dr Penny Woods, chief executive of the British Lung Foundation (BLF), said: “To reduce the impact, people who find their health affected can take simple steps such as avoiding busy roads, especially during rush hour, and refraining from strenuous exercise outside.”

The event closely follows another high level pollution event in March. Professor Malcolm Green, founder of the BLF, said long term exposure to air pollution was “associated with lung diseases including asthma, as well as lung cancer, and can make symptoms worse in those with pre-existing respiratory conditions. The effects of air pollution depend on the severity of exposure, length of exposure, and susceptibility of the individual”.

Asthma UK told asthma sufferers to carry their inhalers at all times. Especially as the high pollution event was due to combine with increased pollen counts.

“Poor air quality and pollen allergy can both trigger asthma symptoms, and increase the chance of a potentially life-threatening asthma attack. Children can be more affected by pollution because they have faster breathing rates, and their lungs are still developing,” said an Asthma UK advisory.

Woods said it was unfair that those suffering asthma and other lung conditions should be repeatedly forced indoors by air pollution events.

“People living with lung conditions shouldn’t have to take such steps simply to avoid being made ill by the air they breathe. With periods of high pollution often resulting from a combination of domestically-produced pollution and that coming from mainland Europe, we need urgent action from government to clean up the air we breathe, across all government departments at home and at a pan-European level.”

Keith Taylor is the Greens MEP for the south east, the area most heavily affected by Friday’s event, said the problem should be a national priority. “Whoever forms the next government, one of the first things they must do is to urgently address this public health crisis that currently only seems to be getting worse.”

Simon Birkett, director of campaign group Clean Air in London, said: “This is the biggest, most serious air pollution or particle episode since the so-called Sahara dust episode a year ago.

“If there is one lesson this week, it’s that we must follow the lead of cities like Paris that are issuing public health warnings, restricting traffic and putting forward ambitious plans to triple cycling rates within five years.”

The slow moving cloud of smog is being fed by a sluggish southerly weather system, which is also responsible for this week’s warm spring weather.

Dr Helen Dacre, a meteorologist at the University of Reading, said: “Southerly flow will lead to pollution being imported from the industrialised urban parts of Europe. This pollution will blow across Britain and add to the local pollution produced by British car drivers and heavy industry, creating high concentrations of pollutants in the air. On Saturday however, the weather will change. Clean Atlantic air will spread across the UK and pollution will return to low levels.”

Northern Europe, especially France, will be cloaked in a thick shroud of smog for much of Friday. In Paris and northern cities the government has reduced all traffic speed limits by 20km/hr. Residential parking has been made free in Paris to encourage people to leave their cars at home. In March, Paris implemented license plate bans to take half of all cars from the road.

via Air pollution spike across England sparks warning from health charities | Environment | The Guardian.

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