June 18th 2020 was supposed to be Clean Air Day. However, social distancing laws brought in as part of the UK’s lockdown meant the gatherings and events that usually take place on this day would not be possible, and as such, the date has been moved to October 8th 2020. This is both understandable and welcomed, with the health and safety of everyone involved in Clean Air Day the absolute priority.
Even so, the near-global lockdown that has been forced as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic has had a dramatic effect on the quality of our air, as travel and activity drop to almost zero. On the day that should have been used to draw attention to the importance of clean air and celebrate those who are working to improve it, this is something we should not ignore.
Levels of NOx, which is the generic term for nitrogen oxides that are most relevant to air pollution, have dropped across the UK. Early estimates suggest that concentrations have decreased by between 30-40% across the country, a significant reduction that represents a marked improvement on air quality prior to the lockdown. Given the link between air pollution and cardiovascular health, this is something that we have to sustain even as we move out of lockdown.
There is also a renewed focus on the quality of air inside our structures. We’ve seen a huge increase in the number of people working from home, which presents indoor air quality challenges of its own, and there is emerging research which highlights the role ventilation strategies will play as we return to offices and places of work.
The COVID-19 crisis has been devastating, but we have to take this new level of air quality as the baseline moving forward. The focus must be on the health of our buildings, to prevent issues such as Sick Building Syndrome from becoming prevalent again. As we transition back towards some form of normality, we must take this opportunity to position air quality front and centre, and avoid slipping back onto the dangerous path we found ourselves on before the crisis.