Lockdown brings significant fall in pollution for towns and cities

Levels of dangerous pollutants were slashed by as much as 40 per cent in towns and cities during the early days of lockdown, according to new research.

Data gathered on behalf of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) found massive falls in nitrogen oxides and nitrogen dioxide between the start of lockdown and April 30.

Positive effects on air quality were not felt evenly across the country, but urban environments saw drops in the levels of nitrogen oxides of between 30 per cent to 40 per cent on average.

There is significant evidence these gasses worsen are linked to asthma, heart disease, diabetes and may have an impact on birth outcomes.

Nitrogen dioxide also dropped by an average 20 per cent to 30 per cent in urban centres, with the greatest falls recorded at roadsides. The gas was of particular interest to scientists during the coronavirus pandemic because it inflames the lungs and can reduce immunity to lung infections.

A reduction in road traffic, which fell by 70 per cent over the period in question, was one of the major causes of the drop in pollution levels.

The data was published by Defra’s Air Quality Expert Group. More than 50 organisations submitted evidence, university research groups, commercial organisations, industry bodies and local authorities.

One of its stated aims was to gain insight into the impact of air quality on viral infection. But it said it would “not be surprising” if there was a link between an individual’s exposure to air pollution and the occurrence or the severity of Covid-19 infection.

Sarah MacFadyen, head of policy and public affairs at Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation, said: “This report is vital to show the impact of the pandemic on air quality. As we begin to recover from Covid-19, we must keep these levels down and push them lower, to protect everyone’s lungs,” she said.

“The report highlights that there could be links between exposure to air pollution and how likely someone is to develop Covid-19, or to develop a more severe form of Covid-19.

“We urgently need more research to understand this link.”

Ms MacFadyen called for new legal limits on fine particulate matter in line with World Health Organisation recommendations, and for these new standards to be met by 2030 at the latest.

Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation also want to see planned Clean Air Zones that have been delayed in some cities to be implemented as soon as possible.

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