Pollution halves in Chelmsford as coronavirus curbs traffic

Parts of Chelmsford has seen pollution more than halve, as residents are urged to stay at home due to coronavirus.

Baddow Road, where the air is monitored by a machine next to Meadgate Avenue, has seen a particularly steep decrease in the most harmful pollutants.

Levels of NO2 have fallen from an average of 32.9 micrograms per cubic metre between March 19 and 26 last year, to 15.3 micrograms per cubic metre between March 17 and 24 this year.

That’s a decrease of 53 per cent on the road that suffers regularly from high levels of traffic congestion – NO2 primarily gets in the air from the burning of fuel, usually as emissions from cars, trucks and buses.

The falling levels is likely to be a result of fewer vehicles on the road as people stay home, as an estimated 80 per cent of NO2 in the air comes from traffic emissions.

On March 16 prime minister Boris Johnson urged everybody in the UK to work from home and avoid pubs and restaurants. On Friday last week schools, pubs, restaurants and other gathering places were ordered to shut.

On March 23, the public in the UK were ordered to stay home except for making necessary journeys to buy food or to go to work for those who are key workers.

On Springfield Road – where the motoring station is situated next to Chelmsford prison – the levels of NO2 reduced from 140.9 to 120.7 micrograms per cubic metre over the same period.

The levels of PM10 particulate decreased from 31.2 to 26.7 micrograms per cubic metre – a similar percentage decrease.

The air quality monitoring system in Chignal, north of Chelmsford, located in Mashbury Road, saw levels of NO2 fall by about 33 per cent.

Rainsford Road pollution, motored by a station next to Chelmsford fire station, however has only seen a marginal drop in pollution – from 20.4 to 19.2 micrograms per cubic metre, equating to a fall of six per cent in the same period.

When traffic levels do rebound, Chelmsford City Council says a variety of transport schemes proposed in the Local Plan across Chelmsford will help relieve congestion, with the potential to reduce associated exhaust emissions.

These proposals include cycleway improvements and new provision, bus priority measures, and highway capacity improvements which includes a proposed new Chelmsford North East Bypass.

There is evidence that high levels of NO2 can inflame the airways in our lungs and, over a long period of time, affect how well our lungs work. This can cause problems such as wheezing, coughing, colds, flu and bronchitis.

People with asthma are particularly affected as increased levels of NO2 can cause more frequent and more intense attacks.

Levels were down by nearly half at Southend-on-Sea, from 22.1 micrograms per cubic metre last year to 11.8 micrograms per cubic metre this week.

They also fell from 33.3 to 20.3 at Stanford-le-Hope, from 21.3 and from 25.8 to 18.9 at Thurrock.

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter