Is The Stay-At-Home Order Helping Air Quality? Probably Not, Experts Say

Apr 9, 2020

With rush hour essentially gone in the Tri-State and around the world, what does that mean for pollution? Scientists say its too early to tell and its very likely warmer temperatures could negate any positive effect.

In case you've forgotten what sitting in traffic feels like, let NKU Professor Chris Curran, who studies traffic-related air pollution in her lab, refresh your memory:

"Think about sitting behind that big Mack Truck and when that diesel starts belching out it takes a lot more energy. That means a lot more fuel, a lot more exhaust coming out the tailpipe, when you're doing a lot of start and stop traffic," she says.

Yvonne Sene works in Dr. Curran's lab.
Credit Dr. Chris Curran

But Curran explains it's not the number of vehicles on the road, its the amount of energy being used and fossil fuels being burned, and that's always worse in the summer.

The Southwest Ohio Air Quality Agency is seeing lower particulate readings all over the area, including I-75 and Hopple Street, but says it's too early to tell if it's because of the stay-at-home order in effect since March 24.

Its Monitoring and Analysis Division says, "We also must consider how weather impacts our local air quality. For example, this past Saturday's warm temperatures and abundant sunshine contributed to higher ozone and higher particulate concentrations."

NKU's Curran points out one population benefiting from the decreased traffic is those with health disparities who live along the interstates, since they are not being exposed to the pollution. It's the same for areas around schools right now since there aren't any buses.

She will be watching to see if the same numbers of people normally hospitalized with respiratory and heart problems for an allergy and air pollution mix hold true. "That will definitely show the benefit of continuing to reduce pollution to look for ways, whether it's car pooling, whether it's transit, whether it's moving to light rail, I think if will generate some discussion on how much we've learned."

And then don't forget the extra delivery traffic we're seeing. Curran says there is definitely an increase as trucks head to the grocery and drug stores.