Fog, mist or smog? It’s a mix of all three and as air pollution concerns grab the headlines you have been sending in YOUR photos.
A perfect storm of dust from the Sahara, pollution from the Continent and South-Easterly winds has caused air quality to plummet across the UK.
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Earth systems scientist Dr Robert Bryant, from the University of Sheffield, said: “Today’s misty fog is relatively common. But the extreme nature of the air quality event over the UK is relatively unusual.
“The UK might experience similar episodes of extremely poor air quality on a more frequent basis. On the face of it, the impact is narrow and short-lived, but the knock on effects can be unexpected and significant, akin to the butterfly effect.”
Schools have even closed, or pupils have been kepot indoors during breaks in the South - which has been more badly hit than the north.
London Ambulance Service has seen a rise in the number of people calling 999 for help with breathing difficulties, asthma and heart problems, it said.
The capital is experiencing “very high” levels of pollution along with the rest of the South East - the highest level recorded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).
LAS said it saw a 14% increase in emergency calls for patients with breathing problems yesterday, from an average of 200 normally to 227 calls.
Deputy medical director Fenella Wrigley said: “More people are calling us with breathing difficulties, asthma and heart problems.”
Millions of people with health problems and the elderly have been warned that the UK will continue to be plagued by record levels of air pollution.
And the smog-like conditions are not expected to clear until tomorrow, say experts.
Those with lung and heart conditions have been told to avoid strenuous outdoors activity while people suffering symptoms of pollution - including sore eyes, coughs and sore throats - should reduce the amount they do outside.
Asthmatics have been warned of the need to use their blue reliever inhalers more often as they could be prone to attacks over the next few days. Around two-thirds of the 3.6 million people with asthma find that air pollution makes their asthma worse.
The advice, from Public Health England (PHE), Asthma UK and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), comes after a warning that parts of England are experiencing the highest level of air pollution ever recorded by Defra.
* WHY ARE THE POLLUTION LEVELS SO HIGH?
The current high levels of air pollution have been caused by a combination of factors; the continental air flow, air pollutants from the UK, a south easterly breeze bringing in pollutants from the continent and dust that has travelled thousands of miles from the Sahara Desert.
Dr Helen Dacre, a meteorologist at the University of Reading, said the combination of factors have led to a “perfect storm” for air pollution. “British car drivers and heavy industry create bad enough smog on their own, but the weather is also importing pollution from the industrialised urban parts of Europe, which is blowing across Britain,” she said. “Saharan dust gets blown over to Britain several times a year - the current episode has been whipped up by a large wind storm in North Africa. This has all combined to create high concentrations of pollutants in the air.”
* HOW DOES DUST FROM THE SAHARA DESERT END UP IN BRITAIN?
The Met Office said Saharan dust is lifted by strong winds and can reach very high altitudes. From there it can be taken to anywhere in the world by gusts of wind. The airborne particles are deposited during rain showers. Paul Hutcheon at the Met Office said: “We usually see this happen several times a year when big dust storms in the Sahara coincide with southerly winds to bring that dust here. More dust rain is possible during showers expected later this week.”
* WHICH AREAS ARE WORST AFFECTED?
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) ranks air pollution from one to 10, with one being the lowest and 10 the highest, at present most of East Anglia can expect the highest level of air pollution recorded. Meanwhile swathes of southern and central England should be braced for moderate to high levels of pollution, forecasters said.
* WHAT ARE THE IMPLICATIONS TO PEOPLE’S HEALTH?
Around the globe seven million people died in 2012 as a result of air pollution, according to estimations from the World Health Organisation (WHO). The body said that air pollution is “the world’s largest single environmental health risk”.
WHO said there is a link between air pollution and heart disease, respiratory problems and cancer.
When pollution levels are deemed to be “very high”, people in Britain are encouraged to reduce physical activity, particularly outdoor activity. Older people and those with lung or heart problems are urged to avoid strenuous physical activity. Meanwhile people with asthma may need to use their inhalers more frequently. When pollution levels are classed as “high” people who experience sore eyes, coughs or sore throats are urged to consider reducing activity, particularly outdoors. People with health problems are urged to reduce physical activity.
* WHAT CAN BE DONE?
Green campaigners at Friends of the Earth said that while we can’t do anything about the dust from the Sahara, officials should be doing “far more” to deal with road traffic emissions. Campaigner Jenny Bates said: “We need cleaner vehicles, a serious strategy for tackling traffic levels, including the provision of better public transport and cycling facilities, and an end to plans to build new roads.”
* WHEN WILL IT IMPROVE?
The current situation is expected to improve by Friday when most of the UK can expect low levels of air pollution because of cleaner south-westerly winds, Defra said.