Britain's smog: Killer dust wipes the floor with boring fumes

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Independent Voices

There seems little point in writing this, in soon-to-be post-apocalyptic Britain, with "deadly smog" leaving everyone "gasping for breath" and increasing all our chances of death by up to 100 per cent. We know that Independent on Sunday readers are a dedicated bunch, but even the Weekend Newspaper of the Year readers are unlikely to pop out for a paper with killer smog around.

That's if there are any of you left by the time this appears, which, frankly, is looking unlikely. One friend of mine hid in the pub drinking pints all evening after he read about the deadly peril on London's streets, but still he woke up the next day with a splitting headache, so that toxic air must really be potent. For a moment last week, when I noticed that none of my friends on Facebook were posting about hacking coughs or a feeling of the eyeballs being boiled in vinegar, I feared that I must be the only one left alive and would inevitably end up trapped in a Cormac McCarthy novel, crossing a deserted country with a small child, desperately trying to get to the south, and the ocean ….

As it happened, though, the "killer smog" turned out to be just some sand that blew across from North Africa to distract everyone from Britain's real problems. I did feel sorry for people with asthma, because they must feel like this often and nobody takes a blind bit of notice. But, according to the experts, most people were in no real danger. One, a Dr Alison Searl from the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants, which advises the Government, appeared on Newsnight to say, in a refreshingly and scientifically blunt manner, that "Deaths that occur on high pollution days are thought to occur in people who were going to die within a few weeks anyway, and pollution is just pushing them over the edge."

Dr Searl appeared as part of a package which revealed that this level of air pollution is actually not unusual at all. Last week, much of the media went nuts about killer dust, levels of pollution in London and the South-east were at level 10. Over the past five years, Newsnight reported, Britain has had 422 incidents of high pollution at seven or above, including 61 incidents at level 10. "Few of these were ever publicised."

What happened last week was that the everyday microscopic pollutants we can't see were joined by an unusual pollutant that we could. People noticed the pollution because it was raining on their cars. As soon as that finished, they got back in their cars and forgot all about it as they drove around producing the regular pollutants that are the real problem. And what did the Prime Minister do to address the fact that people in Britain are increasingly choking on exhaust fumes? He cancelled his morning jog. With this kind of leadership, maybe the apocalypse isn't far off, after all.