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1962: Choking fog spreads across Britain
A thick layer of fog which has covered London for the last three days is spreading all over the country.

Leeds has recorded its highest ever level of sulphur dioxide in the air and pneumonia cases in Glasgow have trebled.

A spokesman for London's Emergency Bed Service said 235 people had been admitted to hospital in the last 24 hours and issued a "red warning" to prepare for more patients as thick fog continues to affect public health.

So far 90 people have died since the crisis began and the fog is not expected to lift for another 24 hours.

DIY masks recommended

The Ministry of Health is warning those at most risk, such as sufferers of chest and heart complaints should "stay indoors and rest as much as possible".

The ministry's medical advisors said doctors should prescribe masks for vulnerable patients or "do-it-yourself masks" such as thick cotton gauze or a scarf around the mouth and nose.

General advice to the public was also issued:

  • Only use coke or other smokeless fuel
  • do not bank up coal fires at night
  • don't burn rubbish or light bonfires
  • keep windows closed and draughts out.

Icy roads

The fog has now spread to 22 counties of England making driving conditions extremely hazardous with visibility varying from zero to 50 yards (45 metres).

Black ice was another danger affecting London, most of the south, East Anglia, the Midlands and Yorkshire, according to the Automobile Association.

One AA spokesman described the icy stretch of road on the A12 near Chelmsford as "a battlefield" after a series of minor accidents.

A scene of traffic jams, queues, breakdowns and abandoned cars recalls a picture not seen in this country for ten years when Britain was smother by the so-called Great Smog of 1952 that claimed some 4,000 lives.

Since then the Clean Air Act has been enforced but only dealt with the smoke emissions and not the discharge of sulphur dioxide.

The level of smoke in London's atmosphere today was two and a half times higher than for an average winter day - and the level of sulphur dioxide was seven times higher, according to figures produced by the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research.

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Car driving through fog
In some areas visibility has been reduced to zero

BBC's Leonard Parkin reports on the smog

In Context
In response to the smog of December 1952, the Clean Air Act was introduced in 1956.

It restricted the burning of domestic fuels in urban areas with the introduction of smokeless zones, but fogs continued to be smoky after the act as residents and operators were given time to convert.

The 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 1990s 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.

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