UK

Sahara Dust Pollution Remains High On Friday, But Now Set To Disperse At Last

04/04/2014 07:24 BST | Updated 04/04/2014 09:59 BST

Air pollution levels remain high across parts of England and Wales but are expected to reduce late Friday.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs reports that more than 20 areas from northern England down to the South East are still gripped by high levels of pollution this morning.

But a fresh air mass arriving later today is expected to push the pollution eastwards over the North Sea, weather forecasters have said.

pollution

A cyclist rides his bike at the top of Primrose Hill in London, as the city below lies shrouded in pollution

Ambulance services reported a rise in 999 calls yesterday as air quality plummeted across the UK

The London Ambulance Service recorded a 14% jump in emergency calls for help with breathing difficulties, asthma and heart problems, while the West Midlands Ambulance Service has also seen more people with breathing and heart trouble.

The capital experienced "very high" levels of pollution - the highest level recorded by Defra.

The smog-like conditions are being caused by a perfect storm of dust from the Sahara, emissions from the continent, low south-easterly winds and domestic pollution.

Tom Tobler, a forecaster for MeteoGroup, said: "The air quality will improve throughout the day.

"It will edge out to the east over the North Sea as some slightly fresher air mass comes in across the UK from the west."

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Southern England suffers under the smog

Meanwhile David Cameron has been criticised by the European Commission's environment spokesman Joe Hennon for "misunderstanding" the air pollution problem.

The Prime Minister yesterday told the BBC: "I didn't go for my morning run this morning. I chose to do some work instead.

"You can feel it. But it's a naturally occurring weather phenomenon. It sounds extraordinary, Saharan dust, but that is what it is."

However Hennon told the Guardian his comments were "more than disappointing" because air pollution is a long term problem.

"To say this is a temporary issue caused by Saharan dust shows a clear misunderstanding of the air pollution issue.

"It's clearly an issue you would expect any government to deal with if it's serious about protecting the health of the general public.

"It shows that the problem is not yet understood and one of the reasons we're taking legal action against the UK is that they've not met the targets they agreed to. If I was living in the UK then I would not be happy about that."

London mayor Boris Johnson told ITV London he was also unconcerned about the pollution levels.

He said: "I'm urging people just to have a little balance here. I cycled this morning and it seemed perfectly fine to me.

"I think we need to keep a little bit of a sense of proportion. I cycled perfectly happily around today. I understand asthmatics and people who are particularly vulnerable perhaps need to be cautious but there's no reason why people shouldn't go about their daily lives."

Onkar Sahota, health spokesman for the London Assembly Labour group, described the mayor's comments as "dangerously complacent" in the face of increased 999 calls.

West Midlands Ambulance Service, which covers Shropshire, Staffordshire, Warwickshire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire, confirmed it had experienced a noticeable spike in call-outs linked to breathing problems and chest pains.

Some schools in London have banned pupils from outdoor playgrounds to reduce their exposure to the fog.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Education said it was up to individual schools to decide whether to keep pupils indoors.