Fewer Cars & Less Commuting Could Be Improving Air Quality

As fuel usage drops, staying home, and off the roads, could be contributing to better air quality.

By: Tim Studebaker

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WLNE) – In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, traffic is lighter than usual on the streets and highways of southern New England.  Now, we might be starting to see an impact on our air quality.

Darren Austin is a Senior Air Quality Specialist with the Rhode Island DEM.  He says, “The last few weeks, the air quality has been excellent.”

Austin’s job is to monitor the state’s pollution levels and alert us to problems, like those high ozone level days we see in the hot summer months.  But right now, fewer cars on the road means less exhaust.

Austin says, “The primary sources of emissions regionally in the northeast and locally in Rhode Island is from vehicular traffic, and some of the data I’ve seen shows that traffic is way down.”

As Americans stay home, Austin says the US is using 46% less fuel than usual.  There are also some signs, on a global scale, that air quality is improving.

Austin says, “The satellite data has shown that pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide, resulting from any type of combustion, that is down.”

He says on a local level, there are a lot of variables and it’ll take some time to calculate the impact of fewer cars.

Austin says, “With the weather in the northeast being so dynamic, it’s a little tough to see that signal right now.  We’re going to need a little more data.”

He says studying the longer term trends will help them to size up the true impact.

Austin says, “We’re really, really curious to see how this season’s ozone readings play out.  It could be way, way down if things continue the way they are now.”

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Categories: Coronavirus, News, Rhode Island