Record levels of pollution are continuing to affect many parts of England and Wales.
The London Ambulance Service has said it saw a 14% rise in 999 calls for patients with breathing problems on Wednesday and is still experiencing higher volumes of calls for people with breathing difficulties, asthma and heart problems.
The poor air quality is due to a combination of dust from the Sahara, emissions from mainland Europe, low south-easterly winds and domestic pollution.
The government said on Thursday morning that pollution in south-east England had reached the maximum level of 10 on a 10-point scale.
Very high levels of pollution are also forecast later today for the East Midlands.
Those with lung or heart disease are urged to avoid strong exercise outside.
Here’s what you need to know about the latest developments.
How will each region of the country be affected on Thursday?
Here is a map from the department for the environment, food and rural affairs (Defra) showing expected air quality levels across the UK:
High or very high levels of air pollution are forecast for East Anglia through the Midlands, including Lincolnshire, into eastern-most parts of Wales, around the Dee Estuary, Wirral and Merseyside, and through the south Midlands and Greater London to northern Kent.
Moderate levels of air pollution levels are forecast for other counties of south-east England lying north-east of a line Bristol to Southampton. Similar levels will affect coastal north-west England, the north coast of Wales and some coastal areas of north-east England and south-east Scotland.
Low levels are forecast for much of southern and western Wales and south-western counties of England, Northern Ireland and the remainder of Scotland.
How is the pollution being measured?
Defra has a 10-point scale for measuring air quality.
Level 1 means there is a “low” risk of air pollution while level 10 means “very high”.
Across much of England, moderate to high air pollution levels were measured yesterday, with level 8 in the south-east and eastern regions and level 7 in Greater London.
Are there any air pollution alerts currently in place?
Not yet, but Defra recommends visiting its website for the latest information.
What is the latest advice for dealing with the pollution?
According to Defra:
– Adults and children with lung problems, and adults with heart problems, should reduce strenuous physical exertion, particularly outdoors, and particularly if they experience symptoms.
– People with asthma may find they need to use their reliever inhaler more often. Older people should also reduce physical exertion.
– Anyone experiencing discomfort such as sore eyes, cough or sore throat should consider reducing activity, particularly outdoors.
How long will the pollution last?
Conditions are expected to improve tomorrow. Here is a map from Defra showing the forecast for pollution levels on Friday:
What have experts said about this week’s weather?
Dr Helen Dacre, a meteorologist at the University of Reading, said high air pollution could cause “unpleasant and dangerous effects on health”, both long and short term.
She said: “Toxic gases, such as nitrogen dioxide and ozone, as well as fine dust particles in the air blown in from the Sahara and from burning fossil fuels, all contribute to cause problems for people with heart, lung and breathing problems, such as asthma.” She added the problem was particularly bad on Wednesday because weather conditions had conspired to create “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.
Paul Cosford, director of health protection at PHE, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the air pollution was a “serious issue” but should be kept in perspective.
“It’s a small number of days of very high air pollution levels,” he said. “The pollution will go down towards the end of the week.”
Ian Colbeck, professor of environmental science at the University of Essex, said: “This pollution episode comes just a week after the World Health Organisation estimated that seven million premature deaths annually are linked to air pollution.
“It is now the biggest single environmental health risk. In the past, respiratory diseases (such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) were thought to be the main killers but it now emerges that heart disease and strokes account for up to 80% of deaths.”