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Air Quality After Lockdown

As many nations across the globe hunkered down indoors for months to reduce the spread of Covid-19 it came as no surprise that the natural world responded positively to this, for example, Edinburgh reported a drop in nitrogen dioxide concentrations from a daily average on the same day in March of 74µg/m3 in 2019, to 28µg/m3 in 2020. And it wasn’t just parts of the UK that experienced the positive impact of lockdown on the environment, China reported air pollution to be down an estimated 25%.

 

Although no one could quite predict just how much the lockdown would positively impact the environment it was anticipated that countries across the globe would see similar results as at the height of the pandemic (March – May) nearly 50 of the world's countries were in full lockdown.

However, despite there being evidence to support the idea that less travel by air and on-road have a positive impact on air quality questions are now being raised about indoor air quality with large parts of the population now working from home for the foreseeable future and the concern of yet more time spent indoors due to a potential second lockdown; and in addition to this many are concerned about how we continue to keep air pollution levels low as we transition into the new normal.

Cause and effect

One of the key reasons why there has been an increased focus on indoor air quality is due to the rise of energy-efficient homes which are designed to uphold airtightness. Although designing airtight homes may reduce energy costs, the flip side to this is that it also amplifies pollutants inside UK homes and leads to deterioration in air quality over time.

Substandard indoor air quality is linked to several health conditions; in 2012 the World Health Organisation reported that indoor air pollutants were responsible for around 99,000 European deaths a year. There is also a knock-on effect caused by poor indoor air quality which directly impacts both the UK economy and NHS – the Royal College of Physicians warn that indoor air pollutants are responsible for, at minimum, thousands of deaths annually in the UK. There is also evidence that confirms long term exposure to subpar indoor air quality is linked to serious debilitating health conditions such as asthma, lung cancer, and cardiovascular disease among others.

How to keep cities pollution-free as certain restrictions lift

Without decisive action and practical steps to match, the recent drop in air pollution throughout the UK would sadly remain a brief breath of fresh air and nothing more, soon replaced by the pollutants which have sparked huge coverage and environmental campaigns in recent years. And what’s more there is growing evidence that poor air quality likely makes us more at risk to the effects of Covid-19.

Luckily there are proven strategies to tackle toxic air pollution, flatten the curve on harmful emissions, and assemble a zero-emission future.

One way we could work to tackle the problem of air pollution is by completely revamping how urban space is both used and allocated. Not just to enable easier social distancing but to also make room for a more environmentally-friendly mix of mobility. A study from a French environmental agency reported that reducing car traffic is paramount to quickly reducing air pollution. Many European countries have already begun putting measures in place to reduce traffic for instance Berlin and Paris have invested (and continue to invest) in cycling networks and infrastructure that encourage travel by two wheels instead of four. However, the overhaul to urban space will only be successful if it is supplemented by evidence that public transport can aide the clean air agenda.  This could prove quite the challenge as bus usage has dropped by around 80% with London’s tube network experiencing an even steeper drop of 92%. In order to revive public transport’s appeal now is the time to electrify the bus fleet and in unison digitalise the ticketing process to allow reduced physical contact whilst we remain in the midst of this global pandemic. Such steps will work towards ensuring public transport is viewed as a safe option for the environment but also for those who choose to use it.

The decisions made over the coming months will ultimately determine the future outlook for air quality in our cities. Lockdown gave us all a true sense of what air quality could be like in our cities without harmful emissions. We have the proven tools to circumvent a return to poor air pollution and now is the time to put them to use.

Ensafe understand the assessment of risks of air pollution and the methodologies for mitigating the effects. For more information or if you would like to discuss more about air quality then feel free to give us a call on 01604 878 190, alternatively email us @ [email protected].

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