Sunday 18 February 2018

Poison warning as wildfire smog suffocates Moscow


A SUFFOCATING smog from wildfires around Moscow hung over the Russian capital yesterday, raising the concentration of dangerous pollutants to a new high as residents donned masks and dozens of flights were delayed or diverted at the city's airports.

The thick haze engulfed Moscow for a second consecutive day as southeastern winds blew smoke from the areas worst affected by peat bog and forest fires. Weather experts said the winds are unlikely to change over the next few days.

The concentration of airborne pollutants such as carbon monoxide has further intensified and is at more than six times normal levels, according to city health officials -- the worst seen to date in Moscow. The smog has seeped into buildings and the city's subway system. "I can't bear it any more," said Anna Kozyreva, 25. "My parents have left the city.

"All I want to do is breathe normally, but my job doesn't allow me to leave."

"The smoke is everywhere -- at home, in shopping malls, on the subway," added architect Roman Morozov, 29.

Visibility was down to a few hundred metres, and dozens of flights bound for Moscow's Domodedovo and Vnukovo airports were diverted to other airports or delayed.

Nearly 600 separate blazes were burning nationwide yesterday, mainly across western Russia, according to the Emergencies Ministry, which said that the area affected had increased over the past 24 hours. Hundreds of forest and peat bog fires have ignited amid the country's most intense heat wave in 130 years of record-keeping. Russian health officials have urged those who have to go outdoors to wear face masks and told people staying inside to hang wet towels to attract dust and cool the airflow.

The Russian Health Ministry said hundreds have needed medical attention due to the smog.

Gennady Onishchenko, the nation's chief sanitary official, sought yesterday to assuage foreign tourists spooked by the Russian smog.

"An overwhelming part of Russian territory does not pose any danger and is not engulfed in smoke," said Mr Onishchenko, according to the Interfax news agency.

But he added that foreigners who are in Moscow on business trips should heed doctors' advice and stay indoors for now.

"If a businessman visiting Moscow stays in a hotel, or an office, or a car, it is safe," Mr Onishchenko said. "As for tourists, some adjustments could be made.

"For instance, visit first St Petersburg, where everything is fine, and then Moscow, when the situation improves."

At least 52 people have died and 2,000 homes have been destroyed as a result of the peat bog, forest fires blazes.

Sunday Independent

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