Air Quality during the COVID-19 Lockdown

Air Quality During Lockdown

On 27th March 2020, we provided our initial findings for links between the coronavirus (COVID-19) and air quality during lockdown. Now over three months since the nationwide restrictions were put in place, we explore whether any significant trends can be identified.

Air Quality during the COVID-19 Lockdown

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to social and travel constraints which meant the public were unable to travel to their places of work unless classed as a key or essential workers, and any large social gatherings were banned. With these restrictions in place, we have investigated how air quality during lockdown has been affected.

The graphs below have been taken from the London Air Quality Network and show hourly nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels on Oxford Street from 1st March to 1st July in both 2019 and 2020. Before, we identified a reduction in NO2 levels over the latter part of March at the monitoring location, reflecting when the lockdown measures began, compared to much higher levels in 2019. Similarly, looking at the graph for March to July 2019, the hourly mean readings are significantly higher over the four month period, than in 2020.

Air Quality during Lockdown

Air Quality during Lockdown

Next, we looked at daily average NO2 data from the Department for Energy, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) for Manchester Piccadilly on the first day of lockdown, to the equivalent day last year, where a reduction of 7µg/m3 was found. In this update, we took data from 2019 and 2020 for the same period over the two years – March to June, to see whether there is a visible trend. In the graph below, NO2 daily averages at Manchester Piccadilly are much lower in 2020 (shown in red) than in 2019 across the majority of the four month period.

It is important to note that changes in meteorological conditions can cause variations in air quality. Research undertaken in the air quality sector demonstrates that after removing the effects of weather, concentrations in NO2 fell at many roadside locations since the lockdown, as we have shown in both London and Manchester. The average drop in concentrations in air quality during lockdown has been around 30%.

Air Quality After Lockdown

We have identified that air quality in the UK during lockdown has been reduced both locally and nationally. The question that we now face is whether air quality in the UK will return to pre-lockdown levels. As the country begins to ease restrictions, we anticipate that emission levels will gradually increase again, as vehicles return to the roads, and shops, restaurants, schools and workplaces reopen. The extent will depend on the rate at which restrictions are lifted, as well as whether there are any localised lockdowns, which may influence air quality in different local authority areas.

Despite the significant challenges faced by the pandemic, Covid-19 and air quality can be linked, with benefits seen not just in the UK but to worldwide atmospheric pollution levels. However, as we have highlighted, it is too early to understand whether indoor air quality has been affected by the impacts of lockdown restrictions. With people working from home, homeschooling children and spending more hours inside than before, concerns over potential health effects are arising.

How can we help?

If you are concerned about air quality issues or any aspect of atmospheric emissions, then get in touch with us today to find out how we can help you.

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