London air quality on Tuesday on par with Beijing and ‘very high’ levels expected in northern England
UK residents have been warned to reduce outdoor activities in certain areas, as the country experiences severe air pollution that is expected to worsen during the week.
The dangerous episode that began at the weekend is caused by a rare combination of Saharan dust, emissions from local vehicles and industries, and particles from continental Europe. It highlights the country’s struggle to control its chronic air pollution, which has remained at illegally high levels since 2010.
According to Defra, the environment department, and the Met Office, the national weather service, the pollution is expected to be worst across northern England — including Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester, three cities that have been racing to produce air-pollution control plans in line with a government directive.
On Tuesday morning the air quality in London was on par with Beijing, one of the most polluted capitals in the world, according to data from AirVisual, an app. It prompted the mayor’s office to trigger an alert across the city’s entire transport network.
“The high levels of pollution expected over the next few days is evidence of the scale of London’s air quality crisis and is exactly why the mayor is taking hard-hitting measures to clean it up,” said a spokesperson.
The forecast comes at a time of mounting disputes between city mayors and the central government about how best to tackle the problem — and who should pay for the strict measures required clean it up.
Each year about 40,000 premature deaths in the UK are linked to air pollution, according to a study from the Royal College of Physicians. Air pollution experts say the current pollution episode, which is the worst since the so-called Beast from the East winter storm last March, is likely to increase hospital admissions.
Alexander de Meij, founder of MetClim, an air pollution and weather forecaster, said the current pollution episode could last until Thursday, even longer than Defra predicts. “It is a rare phenomenon because of the Saharan dust,” he said, adding that local pollution and European pollution were contributing factors.
Defra’s website shows a forecast of “very high” air pollution, a 10 on a scale of 1-10, in parts of northern England on Wednesday. It also shows a band of “high” air pollution. Defra and the Met Office both declined to comment.