After another local news outlet reported a drop in air pollution in Malta by up to 70%, Newspoint spoke to Dr Mark Scerri, a lecturer in Environmental Management and Planning at the Institute of Earth Systems, to clear the air (excuse the pun!) on how big a difference the current situation is really causing.
Dr Scerri said that while his gut feeling tells him that the closure of schools and other COVID-19 related measures have defacto decreased traffic flows, thus registering a drop in the pollutants NO2, PM10, PM2.5 and benzene, one should definitely look at a wider time-frame before drawing any conclusions.
He plotted the below graph as an example, which shows a marked difference in NO2, or nitrogen dioxide between 19 February and 15 March (red line) and for 16 March onwards (blue line). Seeing that the blue line is based on a lesser amount of days, he said that he’d rather wait for 2 – 3 weeks of data, before making any comparisons and quantifying any reductions.
The above graph, however, still records a decrease in the hourly average concentration of NO2 during the morning rush hour of circa 50 micro grams.
“This difference in traffic flows and related pollution in periods when schools are closed or a concentration of people don’t go to work on holidays, such as the summer time, is not something that is unknown”, Dr Scerri tells Newspoint.
In fact, the Environmental and Resources Authority (ERA) mentions it in the National Air Pollution Control Programme (NAPCP), a useful tool in helping Malta’s government plan policies and measures in this regard.
“It is best to start looking at ways to decrease the ambient levels of these pollutants by curbing traffic flows in the long-term”, he concludes, upon referring to the policy adopted by Germany’s Federal Environment Agency, of letting employees work from home one day a week as an example.