Heatwave smog turns Muscovites into heavy smokers

MOSCOW (Reuters) - The worst smog to hit Moscow in almost a decade has sent pollution 10 times above safe levels and Russia’s chief lung doctor on Wednesday said residents were inhaling the equivalent of 40 cigarettes every few hours.

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The city of more than 10 million has been sweltering under a record breaking heatwave exacerbated by peat fires in areas surrounding the capital.

With street temperatures hitting almost daily all-time highs, the peat fire’s smoke and its cinder smell have crept into sultry offices, homes and restaurants.

“The concentration of carbon monoxide and suspended particles in Moscow surged up to 10 times above the limit last night,” Alexei Popikov, chief specialist at Mosekomonitoring, a city government agency overseeing air pollution, told Reuters.

Alexander Chuchalin, Russia’s chief pulmonologist, told a news conference of the dangers of those kind of levels.

“(The current level of) carbon monoxide damages an average of 20 percent of red blood cells in a human body which equals to the effect of two packs of cigarettes smoked within three or four hours.”

He advised residents to wear masks, take antioxidants such as vitamin E, try to stay indoors as much as possible and use nebulizers to clear their lungs.

On Monday temperatures reached 37.4 degrees Celsius (99.3 degrees Fahrenheit), the highest figure since records began 130 years ago. On Wednesday temperatures were 37.3 degrees Celsius.

Alexei Yablokov, an internationally renowned biologist who heads Russia’s Green Party, said on Tuesday that air pollution caused by the smog could kill hundreds more people than usual in the Moscow region.

Moscow region chief Boris Gromov asked Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Tuesday to allocate 25 billion rubles ($827 million) to fight the fires around Moscow.

The smog may begin to clear on Thursday evening, when an atmospheric front moving over from the west is expected to bring rain showers to the Moscow region, Dmitry Kiktev, deputy director of the Roshydromet meteorological service told Reuters.

He said the heatwave would retreat over the weekend, with extreme temperatures falling by four or five degrees Celsius.

Editing by Matthew Jones