London Shrouded in Pollutants as Sahara Dust Adds to Particles

Apr 03, 2014 7:10 am ET

April 3 (Bloomberg) -- Londoners woke to a hazy cloud of pollution shrouding skyscrapers in its Docklands and City financial districts for a third consecutive day.

The city’s pollution index reached seven on a scale of one to 10 today, the Met Office said today on its website. It predicts the level to drop to a healthier reading of three tomorrow. Seven is deemed “high,” meaning those with lung and heart problems should cut exercise, government guidelines say.

The pollution stems from a mix of domestic emissions, particles from continental Europe and dust from a Saharan sandstorm. It highlights the struggle the U.K. capital faces in cleaning up its air, because the government doesn’t expect London to reduce nitrogen dioxide levels to European limits for another 11 years.

“I’m suffering too. Air pollution is a very serious issue,” Energy Secretary Ed Davey told lawmakers in Parliament today. “Most of the analysis shows that the air pollution that is most damaging in the U.K. comes from the transport sector. Clearly we will do everything we can and it makes yet another good reason for going green.”

Air pollution is responsible for about one in eight deaths each year, according to the World Health Organization. It kills about 7 million people annually, more than half due to fumes from indoor stoves and the remainder from outdoor pollutants, the agency reported last week.

Paris in March banned half the city’s cars from roads for a day after pollution levels surpassed even such cities with smog issues as Beijing and New Delhi.

Sahara Dust

The Met Office and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs have blamed the current smog on a mix of local emissions, particles blown from continental Europe to the east and southeast, and fine dust carried from the Sahara Desert by air currents from the south following sandstorms at the end of last month that threw sand high into the atmosphere.

An air pollution map on the Defra website shows the maximum level of 10, or “very high” being reached for at least a third day in the region of East Anglia, to the northeast of London.

A Defra spokeswoman said yesterday that a level 10 tends to be recorded somewhere in the country every year. The last instance was a few of weeks ago, and before that, it was in March 2013, she said.

The European Commission in February threatened to sue the country for failing to meet limits on nitrogen dioxide.

The current pollution levels are still far from the fogs that London became known for in Victorian times, or even pollution levels from last century, according to Andrew Lansley, a former health secretary and current leader of Parliament’s lower chamber, the House of Commons. Those fogs became known as “pea soupers” because of their consistency.

“In terms of smog, we’re hardly returning to Victorian times,” Lansley told lawmakers today in Parliament. “I can remember in the East End when I was a boy not being able to see the pavement.”