UK Lockdown Causing Large Decrease in Air Pollution Levels


Due to the outbreak of the global pandemic there has been a nationwide lockdown which has caused a large drop air pollution across the whole of the UK, especially in the big cities.

New data has shown that air pollution is decreasing and that the amount of toxic pollutants will more than likely keep falling. Traffic on the roads remain at low levels as more people stay at home however westerly winds coming from the Atlantic Ocean prevailed. At the moment there are easterly winds which are coming from mainland Europe and bringing extra air pollution with them.

There have been drops in tiny particle pollution from one third to a half in Bristol, Birmingham, Cardiff and London, decreases of around a quarter in Belfast, York and Manchester and smaller reductions in Newcastle and Glasgow. The pollution for nitrogen dioxide levels also showed similar reductions from a third to a half in Cardiff, Birmingham, Bristol and London with drops of around 10-20 per cent in other large cities.

There have also been improvements in the air quality standards in other countries around the world in nations such as China and Italy as much of their industry and transport has also entered a lockdown. There have been warnings from public health experts that have stated that the long-term health effects from high pollution levels will more than likely lead to an increase in the amount of deaths from the coronavirus.

The tiny particle pollution and nitrogen dioxide levels are two of the polluters which have the biggest impact on people’s health stated James Lee, a professor at the University of York, who analysed some of the recent data.

The data has come from the background air monitoring stations which are located in cities and away from any main roads. They are placed in such locations to help represent where people actually live.

A comparison between the six-week period before the 10 February and the six-week afters were done. The 10 February is the date in which the onset of Covid-19 occurred.  The average was taken from both periods to be able to draw a comparison. Lee also compared the six-week period after the breakout with the same dates over the last five years. In both comparisons that were done they both showed a large and noticeable reduction in the pollution level.

The analysis is currently preliminary because doing a full calibration of all of the data will take some time, however there is already a very clear and obvious suggestions that there has been a large decrease in the pollution levels. The main factor in the drop in the pollution levels in due to the large reduction in road traffic as other main contributors to the pollution levels such as farm emissions, coal or gas fired power stations and heating for buildings will not have changed much.

There is one pollutant that is still rising amongst all of this. Ozone is rising because there are normally chemical reactions between the nitrogen dioxide and small particles which actually reduce the ozone layers, so without these pollutants being as present the reactions are not taking place as often. This has only lead to a small increase in ozone layers and may only become a problem in the summer months.

There have been some suggestions that the number of deaths that may be avoided due to cleaner air could outweigh the number of people that die from Covid-19. It will not be known until after the pandemic has calmed down and more research has been done into the area with the research to find a conclusive answer taking years however it will be an interesting study.


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