Air Clean Up
How Does Working From Home Contribute to Pollution?
Nov 12 2020
One of the few silver linings incurred by the coronavirus pandemic is the beneficial effect that lockdown measures have had on air quality across the world. With much of the global population spending at least part of 2020 confined to their homes, the use of private passenger vehicles has dropped significantly, leading to a reduction in transport-related pollution. That was compounded by reduced emissions from industry and commerce.
However, a new report from the Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) suggests that those gains will likely be undone in the coming months. That’s because colder weather will force people working at home to turn up the heating, thus increasing boiler use by as much as 56% this winter. As one of the biggest contributors to air pollution, boilers could be responsible for an uptick in the concentrations of nitrogen oxides (NOx) in our atmosphere.
Gas burning boilers
While the term “air pollution” might make most people instantly think of car exhaust fumes and huge industrial plants belching out plumes of smoke, the contamination from gas boilers in our own homes receives comparatively little attention. However, technological advances in our ability to measure and manage NOx gas emissions reveal that gas boilers account for over a fifth (21%) of NOx emissions across Greater London.
The ECIU report highlights the role that the boilers will play in pollution maps this winter, given that England has just entered another lockdown period and the majority of Britons will be forced to work from home. Assuming that offices are still being heated as normal, the additional energy required to heat homes could lead to a 12% increase in NOx emissions in urban centres. The report also assumes that vehicular use will remain fairly constant, given that the drop in commuting could be offset by more people taking private rather than public transport.
The real cost
While the fumes produced by boilers aren’t directly responsible for killing people, they can exacerbate underlying health conditions and precipitate deaths indirectly. The science behind making such predictions is an inexact one, but experts estimate that dirty air emitted by devices like boilers could cause anywhere between 3,000 and 80,000 premature deaths by undermining the health of those already battling cardiovascular and respiratory ailments.
Of course, the current pandemic means that it’s virtually unavoidable for people to heat their homes, given the lockdown measures and the seasonal temperatures. However, road traffic is still the main culprit when it comes to air pollution and environmentalists are continuing to bang the drum on that issue.
“Road transport remains the biggest source of illegal levels of air pollution across the country,” explained Andrea Lee of environmental law firm ClientEarth. “Evidence shows that Clean Air Zones, alongside help and support for people to move to cleaner forms of transport, are the most effective ways to slash harmful nitrogen dioxide pollution coming out of vehicle exhausts.”
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