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Dramatic drops in air pollution

  • by JW

Long-term exposure to air pollution may significantly increase the risk factor for many predicted to die from COVID-19.

“We can have a better, cleaner future for ourselves and the planet. Once this dreadful situation is over, we don’t want to go back to where we were.”


The UK government has not been acting on air pollution caused in the main by traffic:

Failing to protect us from air pollution

Exeter has also been having problems with its car pollution:

Exeter Transport Strategy: slowly emerging…

The last fortnight has seen a dramatic drop:

Air pollution levels in Exeter have fallen significantly in the two weeks since the country went into lockdown. Analysis by the BBC Shared Data Unit has found nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels in the city have fallen by 52% on the same period last year.

Exeter air pollution plummets |

But such is our economic model, that the same authorities which are trying to create a ‘transport strategy’ also rely on that transport strategy not reducing the volume of car traffic too much:

Exeter City Council is set to lose around £1m a month as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Karime Hassan, Chief Executive and Growth Director of Exeter City Council, said that the impact of the lockdown imposed by the Government was beginning to bite on the finances of the council. Mr Hassan said that a significant impact was being felt by the reduced in car parking income, which last week was 98.8 per cent down on the budgeted target set in February.

Coronavirus hits council income |


It’s happening worldwide, of course – and it might have a longer-lasting effect.

The following piece from Forbes takes us around the globe, from New Dehli to Paris to London:



How Clean Air Cities Could Outlast COVID-19 Lockdowns

From LA to London, the lockdown is helping give the planet a much-needed breath of fresh air, with air pollution levels dropping dramatically in major cities worldwide…

With a massive amount less traffic on the roads, thousands of airplanes on the ground, about 20% of the world in lockdown, and factories shut, the positive fallout on the environment of the COVID-19 crisis can be seen. Drops in nitrogen dioxide (NO2) emissions from all these activities of 30% to 60% are being recorded in many European cities including Barcelona, Madrid, Milan, Paris and Rome according to the European Environmental Agency

A silver lining to a dire situation? Not according to experts

Many are talking of “silver linings”. But not health officials. The “damage is already done” for patients, warns the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA), the continent’s leading NGO for health advocacy. This as evidence snowballs of a strong link between coronavirus mortality and chronic air pollution.

Harvard study has found that long-term exposure to air pollution may significantly increase the risk factor for many of up to 240,000 Americans predicted to die from COVID-19. From a survey of over 3,000 U.S. counties it found people who have lived for decades in a place with high levels of fine particulate pollution are 15% more likely to die from the disease. “If you’re getting COVID, and you have been breathing polluted air, it’s really putting gasoline on a fire,” said the study’s lead author, Francesca Dominici, a Harvard biostatistics professor…

What’s The Takeaway Lesson? 

Speaking of New York’s cleaner air, Jacqueline Klopp, from the Center for Sustainable Urban Development at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, called the pollution drop “a really important learning moment.”

Post COVID-19, Klopp argues for greater investment in electric vehicles and renewable energy. “When we’re ready to reconstruct, we should make sure we’re investing in things that can give us a better future …A lot of money is going to be put into getting the economy going again, and if we just put it back into the same polluting industries, people will continue dying.” U.K. climate website Carbon Brief meantime, believes COVID-19 could trigger the “largest ever annual fall in CO2” this year…

London, Pollution Lowest Since 2000 At Least

Since the U.K. lockdown began on March 23, London and several other cities have seen up to 60% less NO2 levels compared with the same time last year. Scientists predict the presence of toxic pollutants will slump even further in coming weeks as “traffic remains off the roads”.

Environmentalists hope it will lead to “a permanent change” reports the BBC. One of them, Jenny Bates, a campaigner at Friends of the Earth, says the drop in air pollution shows just how quickly less traffic can lead to cleaner air. “People across the UK are paying a heavy price for the government’s continuing failure to clean up the nation’s filthy air, with tens of thousands of premature deaths every year,” she said recently.

Unlike some experts, who predict the current situation will not last, she wants people to act to ensure it does. “We can have a better, cleaner future for ourselves and the planet … Once this dreadful situation is over, we don’t want to go back to where we were or worse, and we can’t have an accelerated return to ‘business as usual’”, she told the BBC…

Takeaway Lesson? In a word: Cut car dependency, increase bike-walk commutes.

Ecologist Simon Curry, told the BBC that when the lockdown ends people should really be asking themselves if it’s essential to drive to work, and consider walking instead. He’s reveling in the more audible birdsong, during his daily exercise allowance.

Simon Birkett, founder and director of Clean Air in London is hoping the lockdown might spark greater awareness. So that people start expecting clean air in their daily lives, rather than growing accustomed to the pollution. He gives the example of a person’s asthma greatly improving during quarantine, thus acting as a clean air consciousness-rouser.

Decarbonising the transport sector is a priority for Stephen Joseph, a visiting professor at the University of Hertfordshire’s Smart Mobility Research Unit. Despite vehicles contributing almost a third of Britain’s greenhouse gas emissions, he says, the UK continues to build “roads to nowhere.” Instead, more local public transport and car alternatives for those who live outside big cities too, are needed to help kick car dependency…

How Clean Air Cities Could Outlast COVID-19 Lockdowns |