Air Quality Improvements Likely Temporary

The COVID-19 health emergency, which has sickened millions and stalled the economy, has also led to drastic drops in air pollution linked to transportation and industry. Studies in California and Colorado show significant drops in carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, particulates, and nitrogen oxides--up to 80 percent reduction in sulfur dioxide in Denver. In the UK, some cities have seen nitrogen dioxide levels fall by up to 60 percent over the same period last year.

Information for northwest Ohio is inconclusive. Sampling of particulate monitors was paused due to the stay at home order. The continuous monitors that measure ozone show a slight reduction from the same time last year but our region has not experienced any very warm days yet this spring. Long, hot, sunny days are when volatile organic compounds form unhealthy low-level ozone.

Ozone is most likely to form in May and June in our region. Ozone Action Season from May through September reminds people of simple actions we can all take to reduce ozone: drive less, fill gas tanks early or late in the day, don’t mow the lawn or use small engines. Do not top off your gas tank. The first click when filling gas means your tank has reached its capacity for the extremely cold gas to warm and expand in your vehicle’s gas tank. Filling beyond the first click will cause gas to expand and spill outside your vehicle. Try to use less energy overall: adjust thermostats, moderate use of household appliances like clothes dryers.

A 40 percent drop in vehicles miles traveled is not a sustainable way to improve the air but does show that drastic improvement is possible if there is a significant movement to electric vehicles, alternative fuels, carpooling, tele-commuting, and active transportation.

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