A surprising new study has revealed that the level of toxic particles in the air over Scotland did not reduce in April, despite the national lockdown which cut vehicles on Scottish roads by around 65% in that same period.
The University of Stirling’s study shows that the harmful emissions of particulates (PM2.5) did not decrease in any noticeable amount, despite an estimated reduction of some 80% of the expected journeys during the first month of the COVID travel restrictions.
The study surmises that contrary to the general belief, vehicle emissions and the motor trade industry may not actually be responsible for most pollutants in our atmosphere, and that residents may actually be in far more danger from air pollution at home!
However, this particular study’s results do appear to be markedly different than similar studies performed in Wuhan and Milan, which showed a dramatic drop in air pollution during lockdown periods.
The Stirling researchers spent the period between March 24th to April 23rd analysing data from 70 monitoring stations set up at the roadside and compared the recorded figures to those seen during the same period in the three preceding years.
The measurements recorded for PM2.5 equated to 6.6 micrograms of particulates per cubic metre of air, which was very similar to levels in 2017 and 2018, but much lower than the figure of 12.8 recorded in 2019.
Last year’s figure was believed to be substantially higher due to the influence of dust from the Saharan desert which was spread across Europe in April of that year.
The particulates can cause various respiratory or cardiovascular diseases due to their effects on the lungs and are a major cause of premature deaths among people in many developed nations.
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On a positive note, levels of nitrogen dioxide, also a significant contributor to yearly deaths worldwide, did indeed reduce compared to previous years, showing that those levels may well be dependent on traffic volume.
Stirling researcher Dr Ruaraidh Dobson summed up the findings and indicated that indoor air pollutants, such as those released in cooking or when smoking, remain a substantially bigger threat to health, particularly in houses or homes with poor ventilation; moreover, levels of pollutants in the home will almost certainly have increased due to the lockdown.
While the study may contradict others that have taken place worldwide, the supposed beneficial effects of reducing vehicle emissions on air quality may well not be as significantly beneficial as is widely thought.
While reducing travel could lead to other benefits such as lower driving costs or cheaper insurance policy premiums, the health benefits of fewer vehicles on the roads remains unproven.