Russian fires mean UK Pollution

Out-of-control farm fires in Russia combined with adverse weather conditions have been blamed for soaring particulate levels in Scotland and Northern England.

Unexpected increases in PM10 levels have been recorded at a number of monitoring sites in the north of the UK and in many places levels have reached the point where they are in breach of air quality standards.

The problem has been pinned on the soot and smoke pouring across the North Sea from seasonal farm fires in Russia, where stubble burning is standard agricultural practice.

This impact on UK air quality is unusual, and may have been exacerbated by uncontrolled spread of the fires due to dry conditions, leading to a rapid expansion of the burning area, and by prevailing weather.

Information from the Met Office suggests that the easterly air mass flows which have brought the particles to the UK are likely to remain over the next few days but that this will change by Saturday.

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

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

While there are legal agreements in placed to deal with situations such as this one, where one country’s activities damage the air quality of another’s, the rules are shaky at best and hard to implement.

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.

Detailed information on UK air quality can be found on the Air Quality Archive.

Sam Bond

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