Empty Roads: The A329M at midday

Researchers from a London university have found that pollution levels are plummeting during the coronavirus outbreak.

Amid the tragedy, confusion and panic-buying, there have been some positive signs. Beneath the haze of news coverage of COVID-19, data has emerged to show that pollution levels worldwide are reducing.

New research from King’s College London has found that, with the reduced numbers of cars on London’s roads, concentrations of nitrogen dioxide have fallen by as much as 55%. The gas is usually created from the burning of diesel and petrol in vehicle engines.

Professor Martin Williams, Head of the Science Policy and Epidemiology Team at KCL, said in a statement that “early analysis of the lockdown showed significant reductions in Nitrogen Dioxide… particularly near busy roads in London where in some central areas concentrations were halved.”

The London Skyline, overlooking ‘The Gherkin’, the Tower of London and Tower Bridge

However, as with everything at this uncertain time, the news is not all good. Professor Williams went on to say that “the lockdown period coincided with easterly winds and higher temperatures… as pollutants from northern Europe added to UK emissions to give higher than usual PM2.5 levels.”

PM2.5 levels refer to the concentration of pollutant particles in the air. The research noted that, with people spending more time at home, demographics which are usually out of the house during the day (eg children and tube users) were ‘exposed to a higher level of PM2.5 because of additional time spent cooking at home.’

The researchers were also uncertain as to what affect air pollution has on those with COVID-19. Professor Williams concluded that “more research is needed to assess how air pollution affects health during lockdown and the role of air pollutants in the spread of the virus.”

The World Economic Forum, who have also reported reductions in Nitrogen Dioxide levels, have linked pollution and coronavirus, stating that ‘11,000 fewer people have died thanks to cleaner air.’ The information has been released following a new study by the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA).

Pollution levels across Europe have fallen as a result of lockdown SOURCE: CREA

The study concludes that ‘long-term air pollution makes some people more vulnerable to COVID-19’, bridging a link between pollution and coronavirus that King’s College London were reluctant to declare, as yet.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) published an article in 2018, declaring that more than half a million Europeans die every year, from deaths caused by air pollution. Lauri Myllyvirta, a lead analyst at CREA, believes that the figures “show how normalized the massive death toll from air pollution has become.”

However, while the levels may be reducing in Europe, pollution levels are beginning to rise again in China, as the country reopens from its own lockdown. Major news outlets, such as the Financial Times, have posted graphics which emphasise just how drastic the change is.

Meanwhile, the administration of US President, Donald Trump, has indefinitely suspended environmental protection laws while the coronavirus pandemic continues. The suspension involves a relaxation of fines and laws meaning many companies will largely be unaccountable for their actions, should they pollute the air or water.

There are signs everywhere of the visible effect of lockdown. Many businesses are struggling as they remain closed, obeying Government guidelines. But it is not just on the high street that lockdown is noticeable. Playgrounds and pubs are shut, while roads and parks are practically empty.

Police Officer, Julia Baker, is a ‘keyworker’ who has continued her day-job over the lockdown period. Officer Baker lives just outside London and cycles to work. Even in the relatively short period of time that the UK has been encouraged to stay at home, Baker has noted a difference in air quality around the usually polluted city.

 

With London as an example, and supported by the research from KCL, CREA and WHO, it is clear that nations must take into account pollution levels – just as much as any other factor, while trying to stop the spread of the coronavirus.