PM2.5 pollution did not decline during lockdown in Scotland

Particulate matter (PM2.5) air pollution did not decline during the lockdown period in Scotland, according to a new study published by researchers at the University of Stirling. 

As the country went into lockdown and the number of car journeys was significantly reduced, widespread reports highlighted the dramatic decline in air pollution. 

However, a recent paper has highlighted that in fact, in Scotland, PM2.5 – the most harmful pollutant to human health – did not decline. 

The researchers analysed data from 70 roadside monitoring stations around Scotland from March 24 (the day after lockdown was introduced in the UK) to April 23. They then compared this to comparative 31-day periods in 2017, 2018 and 2019. 

They found that across Scotland, the mean concentration of PM2.5 was 6.6 micrograms per cubic metre of air (µg/m3) in the observed period in 2020 – similar to the levels in 2017 (6.7 µg/m3) and 2018 (7.4 µg/m3).

Based on these findings, the researchers have concluded that traffic is not a key contributor to outdoor particulate matter pollution in Scotland and in fact, people may be at greater risk from air pollution in their own homes. 

Dr Ruaraidh Dobson, who led the study, said: ‘It has been assumed that fewer cars on the road might have led to a decline in the level of air pollution outdoors and, in turn, reduce the number of cases of ill health linked to this pollution.

‘However, our study found no evidence of fine particulate air pollution declining in Scotland because of lockdown.

‘This suggests that vehicles aren’t an important cause of this very harmful type of air pollution in Scotland – and people may be at greater risk from poor air quality in their own homes, especially where cooking and smoking is taking place in enclosed and poorly ventilated spaces.’ 

Photo Credit – Pixabay

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Paul Baxendale
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Paul Baxendale

So what is the cause? The values show a decline of nearly 11% overall from 2018, so something is reducing, despite traffic flow increasing. The mere different of 0.1 from 2019/20 should not be the focus, there needs to be more clarity on the numbers in this report – have more sensors been installed in higher polluting areas compared with 2018? Having a mean value does not give the whole picture and only measuring one month is going to give limited results. The statement about pollutants in the house being worse! What is the Dr. saying? We’re all better off… Read more »

Flavio Berthoud
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Geraldine Morris-Dowling
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Geraldine Morris-Dowling

Ok. Tell my neighbour… who was lighting their wood burner throughout May June and July on ‘cool’ evenings . Rediculous. Especially as our city is a CAZ. But this DEFRA approved so therefore permitted .
Put on a jumper .