Scottish Study Questions Lockdown Emissions Drop

Tue 8th Sep 2020

A new study from the University of Stirling has poured cold water on suggestions that lockdown measures helped contribute to less air pollution across the UK.

Research from across the globe including influential studies in Wuhan and Milan found that during the height of lockdown, with fewer cars on the roads, carbon emissions in some of the world’s biggest cities had dropped to record low levels.

But despite traffic levels dropping by up to 80 per cent in some areas of Britain during the early months of the pandemic, the study by the University of Stirling found that there was no reduction in toxic ‘fine’ particles known as PM2.5.

With the toxic air pollution remaining at the same levels in Scotland, it has now been suggested that cars and other traffic may not actually be responsible and that smoking and other fumes from within the home may be the largest contributor.

The study looked at data from 70 roadside monitoring stations from the very first month of lockdown, from March 24th to April 23rd, and found no read difference in levels of PM2.5 compared to the previous three years. Though the report did find lower levels of nitrogen dioxide, Dr Ruaraidh Dobson, who published 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 – contrary to research from places such as Wuhan in China, and Milan – found no evidence of fine particulate air pollution declining in Scotland because of lockdown.”

The report goes on to question whether lockdown was actually a danger to the public health in that people were exposed to more air pollution in their homes. 

“Lockdowns are intended to result in people spending more time in their homes. This could increase population exposure to indoor air pollution, such as cooking fumes and second-hand tobacco smoke,” the report said.

“In countries, like Scotland, where it appears that the lockdown has not led to reductions in outdoor fine particulate matter pollution, it is possible that personal exposure to PM2.5 may actually have increased rather than declined, due to higher concentrations from indoor sources of particulate within the home setting.”