Study: Less traffic during COVID-19 pandemic leads to drop in pollution

Paul Kurtz
April 15, 2020 - 10:41 am

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — With so many people staying home during the pandemic, traffic volume on Philadelphia-area roads has dropped significantly. That has led to a big drop in air pollution. 

A city Department of Public Health study found that the amount of nitrogen dioxide, the dirty byproduct of moving vehicles, dropped about 25%, and levels of particulate matter, those tiny pollution particles that can be inhaled, came down 14% in the weeks after the shutdown was implemented on March 17.


In addition, a comparison of the same three-week period from this year and last showed a 22% drop in nitrogen dioxide levels.

These are the kinds of numbers that give environmental activists hope for a cleaner, safer world.

"These are certainly significant reductions in air pollution," said David Masur, executive director of anti-pollution nonprofit PennEnvironment, "reductions that will mean significant benefits for public health in terms of people who suffer from asthma and other respiratory ailments."

Masur says it’s a simple yet powerful formula: Less traffic on the road equals less pollution.

"In the cities, the predominant pollution source is from the transportation sector, so we would see the reduction and we are seeing it in other big cities like Los Angeles as well," he said.

Masur is calling on city and state officials to find ways to maintain the better air quality when they shut down ends.

”There are a variety of policies at our fingertips that city officials and state officials can tap into to make these type of reductions commonplace," he said. 

He says lawmakers should expand the region's walking and bike infrastructure and encourage broader support of electric vehicles.