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Smallest airport with least flights produces most PM2.5

A new study by McGill University suggests the busyness of an airport does not necessarily dictate environmental impact. 

Researchers have found that airports located in colder countries are prone to accumulating more pollutants like PM2.5, and conditions worsen during the autumn and winter months. 

white airliner

Runways and terminals have long been known as major contributors to air pollution, producing high levels of emissions which are damaging to the environment and bad for human health. However, it has logically been assumed that busier airports have the worst impact. Now, a study by McGill University has shown this may not be the case, with three Canadian airports involved in the work. The smallest of these, hosting the least number of passengers and flights, was actually home to the highest concentration of PM2.5.

‘Meteorological factors such as the cold temperature and snowfall concentrate pollutants and alter their distribution. Targeted reduction of PM2.5 emissions is recommended, especially for cold climate regions where we observe higher concentrations of pollutants,’ said Professor Parisa Ariya of McGill University’s Departments of Chemistry and Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences.

Data taken during Covid-19 lockdowns shows concentrations of PM2.5 and other particles dropped at one airport to such an extent it complied with recommended workplace air pollution thresholds, which it previously exceeded. Professor Ariya believes this is also significant: ‘The drop in the concentration of pollutants due to Covid-19 reveals how much pollution is generated at airports during normal activities. It also shows how much pollution workers and residents of the area are exposed to, especially during cold seasons.’ 

Last year, a study showed Europe’s five biggest airports released more CO2 than the entire Swedish economy. At the time of writing, all airports involved in the research had plans to expand at the time. Prior to the pandemic, every UK airport had also submitted, or had proposals approved, to grow in size.

Image credit: Karim Balaa

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