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1956: Thick fog causes death on roads
At least six people have died and several others have been injured in road accidents in thick fog.

Most of England, south of a line from Newcastle-upon-Tyne to Blackpool has been shrouded in fog, with visibility in parts of East Anglia reduced to five yards (4.5 m) in places.

In Bedfordshire two men in a van were killed when it crashed into a lorry.

In Birmingham, Pauline Weston, aged 16, was killed when she was struck by a bus which mounted the pavement after colliding with a car.

In Wales, forty-one miners on their way to work were taken to hospital when a double-decker bus overturned near Merthyr Tydfil in Glamorganshire. Ten were kept in for treatment.

Severe shock

The fog has also caused trouble on the railways. A two-coach diesel train from Lichfield to Birmingham ran into the rear of a stationary tank engine in fog outside New Street Station in Birmingham.

The front coach of the train was extensively damaged and the driver, Richard Lloyd, from Birmingham, was admitted to hospital suffering with a broken arm and severe shock. Two passengers were treated at the hospital for shock

The line was blocked for an hour and the disruption led to delays of up to two hours on the main London line.

A spokesman for the Post Office has urged customers to post Christmas letters and cards at once so as to be sure they arrive in time.

Troops returning from Port Said in Egypt are among passengers held up in three liners making slow progress up the Solent.

Air passengers have also faced delays. People travelling to Ireland are being offered the alternative of travelling by rail from Euston to Dublin via Holyhead and Belfast via Heysham.

Scientists say the amount of sulphur dioxide in the fog is not comparable with the fog of 1952 which caused such a high number of casualties. Official figures show some 4,000 people died prematurely following five days of smog in December of that year.

It is the dark smoke and grit from chimneys which combines with fog to produce the dense sulphurous "smog".

The Clean Air Act became law in the summer, banning the emission of dark smoke from chimneys, trains and industrial furnaces. It also contains measures to limit the discharge of grit into the atmosphere.

But the new law will take some time to take effect as residents and operators switch over to smokeless fuels.

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Garage mechanic pushing car with damaged bonnet
Garages have been kept busy clearing damaged cars off the roads

In Context
From 1952 local authorities were given the power to create smokeless zones. Parts of Manchester, Salford, Bolton and even the City of London were declared smoke-free.

The Clean Air Act gave authorities wider powers to establish smoke control zones. Some emissions would still be allowed but householders were offered grants towards the cost of converting their coal-burning grates to smokeless fuel.

Initially there was some resistance - smokeless fuel was in short supply and considerably more expensive than conventional coal. In 1956 prices ranged from 174s 6d per ton of good quality coal to 214s 7d for a smokeless fuel.

The Clean Air Act was revised in 1968 when industries burning coal, gas or other fuels were ordered to use tall chimneys. In 1974 the first Control of Air Pollution Act introduced regulations on the composition of motor fuels.

By the 1980s and '90s the increasing use of the motor vehicle led to a new kind of smog caused by the chemical reaction of car pollutants and the sunshine.

The 1995 Environment Act introduced new regulations for air pollutants. Local authorities have been given air quality targets to reach by 2005.

According to Met Office figures, pollution today may cause as many as 1,200 premature deaths a year.

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