air pollution

Significant Drop in Air Pollution During COVID-19 Pandemic

The Connecticut Department of Environmental Energy and Protection recently released new information about the positive impact on air quality amid COVID-19.

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Preliminary research on air pollutants showed a significant drop from mid-March to mid-April and while there are a lot of influences on pollution levels, one of the biggest driving factors is drivers on the road.

"It usually ends up from 3 hours to 3 hours and 45 minutes in the car,” says Jessica Hynes, of West Hartford.  “That's my normal day."

Between commuting from West Hartford to Quinnipiac in Hamden and shuttling her twin daughters to and from practices, Jessica Hynes has seen a big drop in her drive time amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Before this, I fill up my car - I would fill up my car with gas every other day and now I think I've filled twice since March maybe," Hynes said.

And the atmosphere is taking notice. Since stay at home orders went into place, we have seen significant reductions in air pollution - on the order of a 30% to 40% drop.

"We're seeing these positive results and it's definitely a combination of the dramatic reduction we're seeing in fossil fuel combustion and that's from the transportation sector as well as commercial and industrial facilities," said Tracy Babbidge, Chief of DEEP Bureau of Air Management.

The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection measures air pollution through a statewide air quality monitoring network that consists of 14 monitoring stations throughout the state that provide real-time data. They also rely on satellite data to analyze pollutants. It’s important to look at this data over an extended period of time for a number of reasons - one of which is seasonality.

Nitrogen dioxide naturally drops off in the springtime. But keeping seasonal factors in mind, satellite data still recorded the lowest March nitrogen dioxide values since 2005. Other big drop-offs include black carbon, which was 23-34% lower than average and carbon monoxide which was 7-21% lower than average.

"These are pollutants that can exacerbate respiratory conditions,” says Babbidge. “It can be a trigger for asthma they can contribute to bronchitis so it's really important that we keep an eye on what's happening from and air pollution standpoint."

Connecticut suffers from some of the worst air quality in the country, and while the emission reductions are showing positive short term effects, DEEP is working hard to create strategies to not only sustain the cleaner than average air but also mitigate climate change.

"We’re going to need to implement change strategies,” Babbidge said.  “And we have a playbook for that. We've implemented some of these strategies and I think it's going to be important that we continue to move forward with many of them."

Strategies like the newly released electric vehicle road map to demonstrate how we can accommodate more electric vehicles as the state works towards a goal of 100% decarbonization by 2040.

This data is preliminary and DEEP will continue to monitor trends in air pollution – especially as more residents head back to work. But it has given us an idea of what the future environment could look like.  

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