Pollution levels decreased in Maryland during COVID-19 pandemic

A view of Baltimore. Coronavirus pandemic safety restrictions have taken lots of cars off Maryland’s roads, and a new study finds that’s been good for air quality. (Courtesy Capital News Service)

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed just about everything, including what’s in the air we breathe. A new report breaks down the positive difference the effects of pandemic-related restrictions have made on air pollution.

Many who still had to go to work when the pandemic hit saw a silver lining firsthand: With most of the workforce at home, there was an estimated 50% to 80% fewer cars on the road, causing less traffic. The report said the air also became easier to breathe.

The preliminary data shows maps of NO2 acquired before and during the
COVID-19 pandemic. The red in the satellite images correspond to about 2 ppb near the earth surface, within the air quality standard for NO2, but enough to make a lot of smog and possibly lead to an ozone event. (Courtesy University of Maryland College Park)

The report, released by the University of Maryland and the Maryland Department of Environment, found that between roughly mid-February and late May, levels of nitrogen oxide decreased by 15%, and carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide each fell by 30%.

It also found a 30% drop in black carbon, a pollutant linked to diesel fuel.

The significant decreases in air pollution are not surprising, according to Maryland Secretary of the Environment Ben Grumbles — traffic on Interstate 95 alone was down 50% at the beginning of March.

There is no denying the decrease in greenhouse gas emissions was a direct effect of people staying at home and traveling less, Grumbles said, adding that teleworking is “the wave of the future.”

The authors of the study say that as Maryland gradually moves away from a stay-at-home reality, the state continues to push to reach its goal of 300,000 zero-emissions vehicles by 2025 and stress the accessibility and convenience of using public transportation.

Currently, there are around 26,000 zero-emissions vehicles in Maryland, according to the Maryland Department of Environment.

More Coronavirus News

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

Megan Cloherty

WTOP Investigative Reporter Megan Cloherty primarily covers breaking news, crime and courts.

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