Report reveals the impact of the first lockdown on air pollution levels in Cambridge

Ryan Coppack 15 February 2021
Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons

A report has revealed that nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels in Cambridge, during the first lockdown of 2020, were half of what had been predicted based on data from previous years.

The report, ‘How have the Covid pandemic and lockdown affected air quality in cities?’, published in December of last year by the Centre for Cities, observes that ‘almost all cities and large towns experienced falls in their NO2 concentration levels between the end of March and mid-May 2020’.

The impact of the lockdown in Cambridge was particularly significant, with the city being among the top ten places in the UK that saw the greatest decreases in NO2, when adjusted for weather conditions. This was alongside Glasgow, Warrington, Oxford, Exeter, Leeds, Belfast, York, Nottingham, and Reading.

However, in the towns and cities the researchers studied, nearly 80% saw a return to pre-pandemic air pollution levels once the coronavirus restrictions were loosened in the summer of 2020. Cambridge was no exception, with NO2 levels significantly increasing following the lifting of the lockdown.

Poor air quality has many deleterious health consequences, and the Centre for Cities suggest that unsafe concentrations of PM2.5 air pollution are potentially responsible for 1 in 19 deaths per year in urban areas of the UK.

The report contains a series of recommendations, including encouraging greater use of public transport ‘once the pandemic is under control’.

Commenting on the report, the Chief Executive of the Centre for Cities, Andrew Carter, said, ‘toxic air has contributed to the deaths of thousands of Covid-19 victims this year and, even after the pandemic ends, will remain a big threat to health – particularly for those living in urban areas’.

He continued, saying ‘city leaders can reduce the threat of air pollution, but it will take political will. Discouraging car usage will be unpopular in the short-term but, if coupled with the necessary improvements to public transport, the long-term benefits to public health and the economy will be huge and our cities will become better places to live. Now is not the time for politicians to delay on this.’