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Guess what’s happened to London pollution now everybody’s staying in

Alexandra Sims

There’s no question that Covid-19 is having a devastating impact on our city, but there is a silver lining to all the doom and gloom.  

Satellite images from Nasa and the European Space Agency have revealed a dramatic decline in air pollution in China and northern Italy due to nationwide lockdowns in the countries, and it’s now thought something similar is beginning to happen in the UK.  

Air quality has already started to improve in this country after the public were told to avoid non-essential travel and stay at home. So much so, that even London’s smoggy air is feeling the effects. 

The National Centre for Atmospheric Science announced on Monday that there has been a sharp drop in levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and fine particles known as PM2.5 in London since mid-February. The data, from the London Air Quality Networkalso showed that the decline was much more significant than in similar previous trends over the last three years. 

The main source of nitrogen dioxide is vehicle exhausts, so fewer people using their cars and travelling to work in the city is thought to be the most likely cause of this reduction. However, sources of PM2.5 are more varied, including vehicles, domestic heating and industrial power generation.

Maps showing the daily air quality index from pollution analysers in London, such as this one at, also reveal how usually congested locations in the capital are showing lower pollution readings. 

Professor James Lee from the National Centre for Atmospheric Science said the centre will monitor the data over the coming months, measuring at around 50 sites across London. He said: ‘Pollution levels are clearly lower than the average of the previous five years. I would expect them to drop even further over the coming weeks.’

So if the city air seems a little bit fresher than usual, it’s not just because you’ve been stuck inside for so long. 

Read Sir David Attenborough’s views on nature and climate change in the digital edition of Time Out magazine

Five ways to help your community during the coronavirus outbreak.


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