Fall in local air pollution during lockdown, data show

Legal limits met during lockdown but now being breached again, reports Victoria Munro, Local Democracy Reporter

Traffic on the North Circular

Air pollution in Waltham Forest fell below legal limits during lockdown for the first time since records began.

All 62 monitoring stations across the borough showed levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulate matter (PMs) fell dramatically as more residents chose to cycle.

Crooked Billet roundabout, one of the most polluted areas of London, saw NO2 pollution reduced by more than a quarter between 2019 and 2020.

Data from Air Quality England shows that NO2 levels at Crooked Billet dropped to their lowest average level, 29.6, in January this year but have risen back above legal levels since March.

Deputy leader Clyde Loakes, who leads Waltham Forest Council’s response to the climate emergency, said this proved pollution “does not have to be a fact of life” in London.

He said: “As we mark Clean Air Day 2021, this is great news, but we must remember these figures are only a silver lining to the emotional pain, financial misery, and worry brought about by lockdowns.

“However, they show us that despite the views of some, pollution does not have to be fact of life for those living in a city – and that they can be reduced.

“Now we have to make sure that this isn’t just a one-off blip but a sustainable achievement that we can continually build on to improve the lives of our residents.”

One of the biggest reductions in pollution was recorded at Bakers Arms in Leyton, where average NO2 levels dropped by 40%. 

The legal limit for NO2 is 40 micrograms per cubic metre of air and, in 2020, the average level at this junction fell from 51.5 to 30.7.