Particulate matter soars as Russian fields burn

Unfavourable winds and dry weather has led to a rise in the levels of particulate matter in parts of Scotland and Northern England as agricultural fires in Russia burn out of control.

PM10 levels well above the seasonal average have been recorded at several sites in Scotland, in some cases breaching air quality standards.

The breach of air quality standards will be a setback for the UK when it comes to meeting EU clean air targets.

The company commissioned by the Government to carry out the readings, AEA Technology, believes fires lit by Russian farmers are behind the surge.

The burning is normal agricultural practice in Russia at this time of year, but the impact on air quality in the UK is unusual.

It is thought to have been exacerbated by the uncontrolled spread of the fires due to a long dry spell and by prevailing weather, carrying the smoke west.

Until winds shift the levels of PM10 may depend on how quickly the fires are brought under control.

The impacts of emissions from one country on another are addressed through the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) by the Convention on Long Range Transboundary Air Pollution.

The Government is working with the UNECE towards future agreements that may more effectively address incidents of this type.

As they are so small, ultrafine particles can be carried deep into the lungs and respiratory system, posing a threat to health.

This is the second time this year that the problem has occurred, with air quality hit by soot and smoke from farm fires in Russia for a week in late May.

Sam Bond

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