Preliminary studies by Environment Canada show a 40 to 50 per cent decrease in pollutants around the Island when compared pre and post pandemic.
Armel Castellan, meteorologist, and his colleagues at Environment Canada compared data from March 18 to 24 and March 25 to 31 from 2019 to this year and noted a “strong correlation” between the decrease of Nitrous Oxide (NO2), particulate matter 2.5 and ozone — the three elements that make up the Air Quality Health Index — and the pandemic.
He notes a big factor in the decrease is the “huge reduction in emissions” from planes and vehicles since social distancing regulations came into effect. He says another piece of the puzzle comes from the open burning restrictions that have been issued across the province in an effort to clear the air and protect residents from COVID-19.
“I’ve noticed even from Victoria, you’re able to see Mount Rainier,” says Castellan. “That’s one kind of anecdotal but very important metric when you’re able to see things you don’t normally see as well.”
David Atkinson, professor of geography at the University of Victoria, says that while you may be able to see further due to the clearer skies he doubts the pandemic will have any major effect on bigger picture pollution on the Island.
“The impact is very small because we don’t really have all that much of a pollution issue in general,” says Atkinson.
Although, he notes that in places with more significant issues of pollution — such as Hong Kong and northern Italy — there have been distinct drops in the emissions picked up on satellites, specifically NO2.
Atkinson says there are some lessons that could be learned from the pandemic that may have an impact long term on the Island, specifically the reduction of driving.
“I’ve noticed more people feeling comfortable getting out on their bikes, this might result in a bit of a permanent switch over,” he says, adding that organizations may now realize the scope of work that can be done remotely which will also have an impact on emission reduction.
“We’ve done the experiment now, instead of just talking about it, we were forced to try it out,” he says.