Changes in air quality during COVID-19 ‘lockdown’ in the United Kingdom

Calvin Jephcote*, Anna L. Hansell, Kathryn Adams, John Gulliver

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

The UK implemented a lockdown in Spring (2020) to curtail the person-to-person transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Measures restricted movements to one outing per day for exercise and shopping, otherwise most people were restricted to their dwelling except for key workers (e.g. medical, supermarkets, and transport). In this study, we quantified changes to air quality across the United Kingdom from 30/03/2020 to 03/05/2020 (weeks 14–18), the period of most stringent travel restrictions. Daily pollutant measurements of NO2, O3 and PM2.5 from the national network of monitoring sites during this period were compared with measurements over the same period during 2017–19. Comparisons were also made with predicted concentrations for the 2020 period from business-as-usual (BAU) modelling, where the contributions of normal anthropogenic activities were estimated under the observed meteorological conditions. During the lockdown study period there was a 69% reduction in traffic overall (74% reduction in light and 35% in heavy vehicles). Measurements from 129 monitoring stations, identified mean reductions in NO2 of 38.3% (−8.8 μg/m3) and PM2.5 of 16.5% (−2.2 μg/m3). Improvements in NO2 and PM2.5 were largest at urban traffic sites and more modest at background locations where a large proportion of the population live. In contrast, O3 concentrations on average increased by 7.6% (+4.8 μg/m3) with the largest increases at roadside sites due to reductions in local emissions of NO. A lack of VOC monitoring limited our capacity to interpret changes in O3 at urban background locations. BAU models predicted comparable NO2 reductions and O3 gains, although PM2.5 episodes would have been more prominent without lockdown. Results demonstrate the relatively modest contribution of traffic to air quality, suggesting that sustained improvements in air quality require actions across various sectors, including working with international and European initiatives on long-range transport air pollutants, especially PM2.5 and O3.

Original languageEnglish
Article number116011
JournalEnvironmental Pollution
Volume272
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study is part-funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Health Protection Research Unit in Environmental Exposures and Health, a partnership between Public Health England, the Health and Safety Executive and the University of Leicester.This study is part-funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Health Protection Research Unit in Environmental Exposures and Health, a partnership between Public Health England, the Health and Safety Executive and the University of Leicester. The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NIHR, Public Health England, the Health and Safety Executive or the Department of Health and Social Care.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 The Author(s)

Keywords

  • Air pollution intervention
  • Air quality
  • COVID-19
  • NO2
  • O3
  • PM2.5

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