Air pollution drops in some areas amid travel restrictions


COLUMBUS (WCMH) — If the visibility on sunny days–when we have them–has seemed a little clearer the past few months, there is a reason.

Levels of nitrogen dioxide and the amount of particulate matter (fine liquid and solid particles) emitted by car and truck exhaust, power plants, and from industrial sources have dropped during the ongoing pandemic.

Global satellite data have confirmed that pollution levels are down in some metropolitan areas. Pollutants in the lower atmosphere are known to irritate and potentially damage the lungs, especially when inhaled in significant amounts.

However, the short-term breath of fresher air does not necessarily compensate for long-term exposure to pollutants that makes some people more vulnerable to complications from diseases such as the coronavirus. Older adults and those with preexisting heart and respiratory conditions are more susceptible to life-threatening complications from COVID-19.

Air quality is a concern on warm, bright days with light winds, which allows the ground-level ozone concentration to build up over urban complexes. The unusually wet, cool spring weather in Ohio coupled with the effects of travel restrictions have limited the accumulation of pollutants that accumulate in stagnant air masses.

Brooke White, an air quality specialist with the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC), said, “Because we had that cool and rainy spring, that helps keep those levels down. But now we’re going to have increased traffic, and we’re going to have those hot sunny days again, so that going to increase our ozone level.”

Ozone in the lower atmosphere is formed by catalytic chemical reactions involving sunlight interacting with nitrogen dioxide and volatile organic compounds (VOA) emissions. Rising ozone levels periodically trigger alerts in the warmer months when traffic is humming in congested urban areas.

“There’s the current trend of a decrease in air pollution because we’re not driving our cars on the street as much,” White said. She added that it is difficult to predict how fast traffic will return to something close to normal levels.

The Air Quality Index monitored daily by MORPC tracks ozone and particle pollution daily, based on an AQI score of 0 to 300. Values above 100 are considered to be unhealthy for sensitive groups in the population, including those who have asthma and other respiratory diseases, and heart disease. Young children and older adults are considered to be among the sensitive population.

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