Health alarm as acrid smog blankets Moscow

7th August 2010, Comments 0 comments

Wearing sanitary masks or clutching wet rags to their faces, residents of Moscow struggled round the city Saturday as the worst smog in living memory from wildfires enveloped the Russian capital.

The concentration of toxic particles was up to five times higher than safe levels, experts warned, as the city's iconic landmarks like the Kremlin and golden church cupolas disappeared behind a layer of smoke.

Drivers put on their headlights in broad daylight to see through the acrid smog that had descended on the capital while the sun shone as a hazy disc easily viewed by the naked eye with little discomfort.

The smoke penetrated into homes and offices and was even visible inside the Moscow metro, one of the deepest underground systems in the world.

"The situation is truly extreme. People are in circumstances under which they should not have to live," leading Russian doctor Ivan Yurlov of the League for the Nation's Health group told the Kommersant daily.

Flights from Domodedovo, one of Moscow's main international airports, were disrupted by the smog with several flights diverted to other airports and around 40 flights cancelled, state aviation committee Rosavitsia said.

"Visibility around Domodedovo is 325 metres: it is up to the captain of the aircraft to make a decision about landing," Rosaviatsia official Sergei Izvolsky told Interfax.

The other main international hub, Sheremetyevo in the north of Moscow, was working normally.

With health experts warning that the best solution was to leave the city for the weekend, package tours abroad were completely sold out and there was a rush for seats on trains and planes out of the capital, news agencies said.

The levels of carbon monoxide in the air were five times higher than the maximum level acceptable for public health, state pollution watchdog Moseokmonitoring was quoted as saying in the Kommersant daily.

The situation with the wildfires that have sparked the smog showed no sign of abating, with blazes with an area of 193,500 hectares recorded across the country.

In the last 24 hours, 290 new fires were recorded, more than the 244 that were extinguished in the same timespan, the emergencies ministry said.

© 2010 AFP

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