Air quality in Kitchener improves during pandemic, researcher says
Preliminary results show a 40 per cent reduction in nitrogen dioxide
More people working from home and fewer cars on the road is improving the air quality in some Ontario cities, according to a researcher at Wilfrid Laurier University.
Hind Al-Abadleh, a chemistry professor and chair of the environment division at the Chemical Institute of Canada, has been studying the impact of the pandemic on air quality in the province.
"When we reduce the sources of pollution...we effectively can see the reduction in pollutants in the atmosphere that we know causes health effects and has other adverse effects on the ecosystem," said Al-Abadleh.
So far, she's examined measurements from provincial air quality stations in four Ontario metropolitan areas, starting from January until April 10.
Up to 40 per cent reduction
Her preliminary results show there's been:
- A 40 per cent reduction in nitrogen dioxide in Kitchener.
- Between 30 and 40 per cent reduction in Toronto (the west end of the city rates better than downtown).
- A 40 per cent reduction in Ottawa.
Nitrogen dioxide is created by vehicles burning fuel and is an indicator of air quality.
According to Al-Abadleh's initial data analysis, Hamilton hasn't experienced any marked difference in the level of nitrogen dioxide.
It's not clear at this point why there's more of a reduction in certain pollutants in some cities compared to others, but Al-Abadleh plans to continue tracking air quality levels during the pandemic and after it ends. She also hopes to expand her research to include more urban and rural centres across Ontario.
The research could become integral to the way municipal governments plan their regions, according to Lucas Neil, an air quality scientist and project manager with Hemmera, where he focuses on environmental assessments and planning. Neil is also working with Al-Abadleh on a pilot project looking at air pollution monitoring in Kitchener.
"One of the things municipalities are required to do when they plan and rezone is look at surrounding infrastructure ... and take into account what impacts those would have on the lands," said Neil.
"This data might help with that planning, might help them reconsider or maybe give some thought to where they distribute industry and manufacturing and ... roadways."
'Consider business not as usual'
During a time of difficult news and dire circumstances, Al-Abadleh sees her research as a silver lining and an opportunity for individuals and organizations to think differently.
She hopes it will push companies to consider allowing more people to work from home. She said the data could also encourage people to rethink what modes of transportation they use.
"It's a story of civilization — how we have been running our global network of ... supply chains and developments," said Al-Abadleh. "There are a lot of lessons to be learned that go beyond the number of [COVID-19] deaths. We need to think long-term."
Neil thinks the data has the potential to change how individuals live and how organizations operate.
"Hopefully we won't go to business as usual, maybe we'll start to consider business not as usual," Neil said.