Central London shrouded in smog on Wednesday. (AFP)
London, April 2: A combination of air pollution and dust from the Sahara today prompted British authorities to issue a smog alert and a health warning for the elderly and for people with heart or lung problems.
High or very high levels of air pollution were forecast in several parts of England, with the worst conditions expected in the middle of the country and in East Anglia, where light easterly winds were expected to trap domestic pollution, to bring in particles from the European continent and possibly to draw in Saharan dust.
Central London was expecting “high” levels of air pollution today, with scores of 7 and 8 on an index on which 10 ranks “very high”. In recent days, motorists in some parts of the country have reported seeing a light-coloured film accumulating on vehicles, evidence of dust from the Sahara.
“I am looking out of my window and the sky is milky white,” said Rob MacKenzie, a professor of atmospheric science at the University of Birmingham. “Call it mist or haze or smog, that reduced visibility is telling you that pollution in the air is greater than normal.”
Prof. MacKenzie said that Saharan dust, which is often found in the air in southern Europe, also reaches Britain regularly and that it has been seen on cars in Birmingham in recent days.
“What is uncommon is for it to trigger an air pollution alert,” he said, adding that pollution levels in Britain and continental Europe were now so high that a natural event, such as the arrival of Saharan dust, could push air quality to worrisome levels.
High levels of pollution in and around Paris last month led the French government to impose a partial driving ban, to reduce speed limits and to offer free mass transit for several days.
Most people are not affected by temporary spikes in air pollution, said Sotiris Vardoulakis, the director of the air pollution and climate change group at Public Health England’s Centre for Radiation, Chemical and Environmental Hazards, but vulnerable groups, including people with heart or lung conditions, could experience a worsening of their symptoms.
“On occasions where levels are high, adults and children with lung problems, and adults with heart problems, should reduce strenuous physical exertion, particularly outdoors, and particularly if they experience symptoms,” Vardoulakis said in a statement.
Older people were also advised to reduce physical exertion, particularly outdoors, as was anyone with sore eyes, a cough or a sore throat.
The department for the environment, food and rural affairs forecast “moderate to high air pollution levels” for central and southeast England today, with “very high levels expected in parts of East Anglia and the East Midlands”. High pollution levels were forecast in East Anglia, the Midlands, parts of Wales and the northwestern England.