Lockdown contributing to remarkable reductions in air pollution

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With millions of people across Europe in lockdown, the corresponding drop in traffic and industrial activity across the continent has led to a remarkable drop in air-pollution.

In 2017, Armagh city had the unenviable title of Northern Ireland’s most polluted city. However, data from DAERA taken on Wednesday April 1 shows the city is now enjoying very low levels of pollution.

Dr Marc Sarzi, Head of Research at Armagh Observatory and Planetarium (AOP) believes the current improvement in pollution levels should serve as a reminder to world leaders that if the will is there then huge strides forward can be made in improving the environment.

Dr Sarzi said: “The last time the international community came together to take steps to improve pollution levels was to tackle the hole in the ozone layer. Major steps were taken, such as banning CFC gasses, and it has led to big improvements.

“What we are seeing during this period of lockdown is pollution levels really dropping right across Europe. Of course, this is only temporary, and they will increase again once people return to their normal routines.

“However, I would argue that this period should be viewed as an opportunity to show how working from home can improve the environment. Even if we worked from home for three days per week and returned to the office for two days to hold critical meetings etc, it would have a major impact on pollution levels.”

Dr Sarzi, who is originally from Italy, suspects the high levels of pollution in parts of his home country may be contributing to the high mortality rate connected with Covid-19.

“Large parts of northern Italy, where the virus has been most deadly, are surrounded by the Alps which restrict air flowing through the country and sweeping away pollution.

“It has been found that pollutants such as Nitrogen Dioxide, which comes from burning fossil fuels, can, over long-term exposure, lead to respiratory health problems. People with respiratory problems can be susceptible to the worst complications from viruses such as this Coronavirus.”

The median age of those dying from Covid-19 in Italy is 67 with 87% of those over the age of 70. It has also been found that 99% of those who died had previous medical conditions.

Dr Sarzi added: “The levels of pollution in Italy since the lockdown have reduced by a half.

“In China, the country has been in lockdown for two months now and it has been estimated that reduced pollution levels have saved the lives of 4,000 children under the age of five and 73,000 adults over the age of 70, sparing them from pollution-related health conditions over this period of time.

“Like the international community did with the ozone crisis, this pandemic can be an opportunity to reflect and take concrete actions to reduce the levels of man-made pollution.”

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