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Air pollution levels in London, Milan, Rome and Paris have all dropped drastically since lockdown measures were put in place, forcing people to stay at home to stem the spread of coronavirus.
Levels of nitrogen dioxide, which mostly comes from vehicle exhausts, and levels of particulate matter, coming from road transport and burning fuel, are said to be noticeably reduced all across London.
Scientists say the city’s ultra-fine particulate matter, known as PM2.5, is currently around half the level it would normally be at this time of year, based on average measurements taken from the past five years.
The National Centre for Atmospheric Science has analysed data from the London Air Quality Network, and found both pollutants have dropped by around half since mid-February.
Meanwhile, the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-5P satellite has confirmed nitrogen dioxide pollutant levels over London are significantly lower than in March 2019.
This is similar to what is happening in other European cities. In Rome and Milan, for example, air pollutant concentrations have dropped by 50%, and air pollution in Paris has dropped by 30%, according to data from the European Environment Agency.
London’s sharp reduction in pollution comes as the coronavirus pandemic precautions have restricted people from leaving their homes apart unless it’s for necessary work, shopping for essentials like food and medicine, or for one form of exercise per day, which has led to a huge reduction of traffic on the roads.
Professor Alastair Lewis, from the National Centre for Atmospheric Science, University of York, said, as per MailOnline:
Air quality has started to improve in many UK cities, mirroring what has been seen in other countries that have restricted travel and levels of outdoor activity.
This is primarily a consequence of lower traffic volumes, and some of the most clear reductions have been in nitrogen dioxide, which comes primarily from vehicle exhaust.
However fine particles (PM2.5) have also reduced significantly.
In London for example, PM2.5 is noticeably lower than would be expected for this time of year at the roadside, and these reductions stretch through into the suburbs as well.
Professor Lewis went on to stress the importance of how PM2.5 levels have changed compared to what we would ordinarily see at this time of year, explaining that air pollution is noisy and often changes based on the weather, and therefore it’s best to ‘compare where we are now against where we might have expected to be based on previous years’.
Whilst the data appear to show reductions in pollution, what is particularly uncertain is what will happen when things return to normal.
Max Nancarrow, Senior Air Quality Consultant with AECOM, told UNILAD:
The air quality improvements we’re witnessing as a result of the UK’s response to COVID-19 are expected to be temporary, once it’s safe to return to normal activities, we may see a corresponding rise in pollution.
However, with an increase in activities such as working from home and the widespread adoption of remote working, it’s possible that long term behaviours could change and transport emissions could be reduced.
It’s okay to not panic. LADbible and UNILAD’s aim with our coronavirus campaign, Cutting Through, is to provide our community with facts and stories from the people who are either qualified to comment or have experienced first-hand the situation we’re facing. For more information from the World Health Organization on coronavirus, click here.
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