Air Quality following the COVID-19 Lockdown

Air Quality Following Lockdown

Following on from our investigations of COVID-19 and Air Quality in the UK and Air Quality during the COVID-19 Lockdown, we explore the impacts on air quality following the COVID-19 lockdown five months after all measures were lifted in the UK and ask what can we learn?

Air Quality during the COVID-19 Lockdown

During the 2020 lockdown we identified that nitrogen dioxide (NO2) concentrations dropped significantly in cities. This was largely due to the reduction in road traffic emissions as a result of the travel limitations enforced at this time. Datasets from Local Authorities throughout the UK show the effect this had on annual mean datasets and associated increase in compliance with relevant Air Quality Objectives in many areas.

Air Quality following the COVID-19 Lockdown

Following the COVID-19 lockdown, the UK has seen an increase in vehicles and associated exhaust emissions return to the road network. The graphs below have been taken from the London Air Quality Network and show daily mean NO2 levels recorded on Oxford Street from 1st March to 1st June in both 2020 (lockdown restrictions in place) and 2022 (lockdown restrictions lifted).

Air Quality following the COVID-19 Lockdown

Air Quality following the COVID-19 Lockdown

As shown in the graphs above, NO2 levels were significantly lower throughout March to June 2020 during lockdown than over the same period in 2022, when restrictions were no longer in place.

During our previous investigation, we reviewed daily average NO2 concentrations taken from the Manchester Piccadilly continuous analyser over the period of March to June prior to lockdown in 2019 and throughout lockdown in 2020. As all limitations on travel have now been lifted, we have obtained data for the same four month period in 2022 (shown in blue), to determine whether there are any visible trends.

Air Quality following the COVID-19 Lockdown

It should be noted that the weather conditions will have an impact on concentrations, as such the results may not be directly comparable, nevertheless there are clear trends. As demonstrated in the graph above, concentrations between March and June 2022 were typically higher than those recorded during lockdown in 2020, indicating that air quality following the COVID-19 lockdown has deteriorated, as predicted. However, concentrations have not reached pre-pandemic levels. This could be due to changes in behavior following restrictions, such as remote working and reliance on public transport.

What have we learnt about the trends of air quality following the COVID lockdown?

The pandemic has presented us with an opportunity to see how measures restricting the movement of people can affect air pollution. The COVID-19 lockdown has shown us that cleaner air can be achieved quickly if restrictions are put in place to directly reduce road vehicle exhaust emissions. However, it has also demonstrated that air quality, without restrictions, could continue to worsen.

The pandemic has undoubtedly adjusted the way we live and these shifts in societal behavioral patterns have the potential to largely benefit the environment. These changes in behavior may present a future with reduced emissions from road transport, through moves toward electric vehicles and greater shift in remote working and reducing the need for commuting. However, for such changes to remain permanent there will be requirement for urgent policy action, such as the implementation of clean air incentives, encouraging people to return to public transport, promotion of active travel, i.e. walking and cycling around city centres. Drastic action to reduce air pollution will bring immediate benefits for air quality and health.

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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