Air quality improved during shelter-in-place
Measures designed to slow the spread of Covid-19 resulted in cleaner air, an environmental study has found.
Drew Pettit, the director of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, said the department recorded a “noticeable improvement” in air quality while shelter-in-place restrictions were in force.
Mr Pettit said: “A study conducted from April 4 to April 21 showing reduced concentrations of key pollutants sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter less than ten micrometres, as well as particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometres, when compared to the same period in 2019.”
Geoff Smith, an environmental engineer with the DENR, said in the just-released 2020 summer edition of the Envirotalk newsletter, that the shelter-in-place regulations were a good opportunity for the pollution control section to measure the impact of vehicle traffic on air quality.
Dr Smith said: “This data highlighted that vehicle emissions are a major contributor of airborne pollutants in a Bermuda roadside setting.
“Concentrations of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide showed the greatest decrease over the Covid-19 shelter-in-place but, before that period, these concentrations were considered safe and were within Bermuda's standards, in addition to those of other developed jurisdictions.”
The results also found that fine particles of pollution in the air also fell over the period, but to a lesser extent.
Dr Smith said: “Other more natural fine particulates may be contributing to this background reading and more analysis of the data is required to understand this contribution.”
But Dr Smith added that the concentration of fine particles had in the past exceeded the “annual limits over some recent years and this can lead to both short-term acute medical issues, such as asthma, and chronic diseases after many years of exposure”.
Dr Smith said: “Ensuring that vehicles are regularly serviced will help to reduce airborne pollution from fine particulates.”
He added air quality is tested at several sites around the island on a regular basis, including East Broadway, which was chosen specially to gauge traffic pollution.
Dr Smith said air pollution on the island is “monitored to standards provided in the Clean Air Regulations 1993, which are designed to be protective of human health, sensitive plants and crops, wildlife and building materials and surfaces”.
Dr Smith explained: “Clear evidence exists of the direct relationship between high levels of air pollution and impacts on human health — however, this relationship becomes uncertain at low levels.”
Dr Smith added: “In general, the population groups at risk from air pollution include children, the elderly, individuals predisposed by some particular disease, such as asthma, bronchitis, emphysema and cardiovascular disease and hypersensitive individuals.”
Researchers around the world found that daily carbon emissions in April were 17 per cent lower than the same period last year as countries closed factories and limited or halted travel because of the pandemic.
Figures up to June 11 showed international carbon emissions were still 5 per cent lower compared with the same period last year.
The effort to fight Covid-19 through restriction of movement has also been credited for a boost for wild animals in other parts of the world.
Sea turtles have been spotted nesting in areas of Brazil they had earlier avoided and scientists have also suggested a temporary reduction in industrial fishing could boost fish stocks.
But Mr Pettit said the ministry had not seen any evidence of any major changes for island wildlife.
He said: “To the broad question of whether the shelter-in-place has affected Bermuda's wildlife — given the information we have at this time — our technical opinion is that there has not been a quantifiable impact to Bermuda's wildlife, positive or negative.”