High levels of pollution in Saffron Walden as dust blows in from the Sahara desert

14:04 02 April 2014

A Met Office forecast for the UK today (Thursday) with the purple area, which includes Uttlesford, indicating

A Met Office forecast for the UK today (Thursday) with the purple area, which includes Uttlesford, indicating 'very high' levels of air pollution.

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Saffron Walden experienced high levels of air pollution this week – with dust blown in from the Sahara desert leaving a thin layer of dirt on many vehicles across the eastern region.

Experts have warned that people should be braced for high levels of air pollution over the next few days.

Air quality is a controversial issue in the town, although Uttlesford District Council (UDC), which monitors it, insists that overall it remains good.

The authority has said there is a low likelihood of any serious impacts on health, although in 2012 three road junctions in Saffron Walden exceeded air quality objectives.

The short-term elevation of pollution levels has been caused by a combination of light south-easterly winds, the continental air flow and dust which has blown up from the Sahara desert, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has said.

The East of England and Midlands are the worst-affected areas but large swathes of England and Wales saw high levels of pollution yesterday.

According to Defra’s pollution forecast, people in Saffron Walden can expect “very high” levels of pollution.

The organisation has a 10 point scale for measuring air quality, with 10 being a warning of very high levels.

It is expected that levels will return to normal by Friday.

At the weekend, some people in Uttlesford found their cars to be covered in a light coating of red dust. The Met Office said that a large amount of sand and dust was swept up by storm winds in the Sahara desert. Experts said that the airborne particles of dust were blown north to the UK where they combined with our warm air and were deposited during showers.

A Defra spokeswoman said: “The high level of air pollution this week is due to a combination of local emissions, light winds, pollution from the continent and dust blown over from the Sahara.

“We want to keep improving air quality and have introduced a new five-day forecast in addition to investing heavily in local and transport initiatives to tackle this issue head-on.”

Defra has a 10-point scale for measuring air quality – with 1 meaning there is a “low” risk of air pollution and 10 warning of “very high” levels.

UDC is due to issue an up-to-date action plan to tackle air quality in the coming months.

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