COVID-19 and Air Quality in the UK

COVID-19 and air quality in the UK

Here at Redmore Environmental, we have been investigating COVID-19 and air quality in the UK and particularly whether current restrictions from the Coronavirus have had any impact on pollution levels to date.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused never before seen changes across extensive geographical areas of the world, bringing parts of travel and the economy to a halt. On Monday 23rd March 2020, it was announced by the Prime Minister that the UK was to follow suit of other countries and go into lockdown. As part of this, social and travel limitations have been put in place across the nation in order to prevent the spread of the virus.

What does COVID-19 mean for Air Quality?

Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) is produced from the burning of fossil fuels that are used to power many of our vehicles on a daily basis, as well as many industrial processes. Similarly, particulate matter (PM) is an airborne pollutant that varies in its particle size, with the main concern arising from PM10 and PM2.5. PM is also emitted from vehicle exhausts, as well as brakes and tyres. Both these pollutants are important to monitor for our populations due to the associated health affects when inhaled, such as respiratory diseases and infections.

Pollutants have been monitored across cities around the world as they enter different prevention stages, in the aim to tackle the spread of COVID-19. As demonstrated in the city of Wuhan, China in the first area to be put on lock down on 23rd January, levels of both NO2 and PM have declined. Satellite imagery from the European Space Agency and NASA has shown that since tighter measures have been put in place, including closure of factories and restricted travel, levels of NO2 across eastern China has been between 10-30% lower than normal for this time of year.

China Pollution Comparison

Covid-19 and Air Quality in the UK

On 16th March 2020 the UK Government announced tighter measures to be put in place. This meant that people who are able to work from home should do so, days later schools closed followed by many pubs, restaurants and non-essential shops. These actions have led to the current lock down where travel is only advised for key workers and to get to and from essential health care and shops.

Road traffic represents around 80% NO2 emissions and is a key sector for air quality in the UK. In cities across the country, reductions in air pollution have been recorded as traffic levels have declined over the past couple of weeks due to COVID-19. For example, London has seen NO2 levels reduce at their roadside monitoring locations. The graphs below have been taken from the London Air Quality Network and show hourly NO2 levels on Oxford Street from the period 1st March to 26th March in both 2019 and 2020. When looking at March 2020, the hourly means reduce in mid-March compared to levels recorded in 2019.

London March 2019

Similarly, NO2 monitoring data taken from the Department for Energy, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) for Manchester Piccadilly was compared between Tuesday 24th March 2020, representing the first day of the country’s lockdown and Tuesday 26th March 2019, the equivalent day last year. The daily average for 26th March 2019 was 44µg/m3 whereas on Tuesday 24th March 2020, this figure fell to 37µg/m3.

The Future

It is currently unclear whether definitive links can be made between COVID-19 and air quality in the UK from the social and travel restrictions currently in place due to the short timescale they have been put in place. However, it is anticipated that the exposure of people to pollutants will be reduced as fewer people are walking next to roads with associated elevated pollution levels. Nevertheless, there is also uncertainty whether health problems may occur from indoor air quality, due to the confinement of people indoors for extensive periods.

We will continue to monitor data here at Redmore Environmental and provide an update in the coming weeks.

Can Redmore Environmental Help You?

Redmore Environmental has experience of working with individuals who are concerned about poor indoor air quality, as well as experience in providing Air Quality Assessments in all sectors. If you’re concerned about the indoor air quality in your home or establishment or require an Air Quality Assessment, then get in touch today to find out how our specialist Air Quality Consultants can help you.

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