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Air pollution levels have dropped by more than a third in Manchester since the coronavirus pandemic lockdown, according to a new university study.

The welcome findings are in common with other UK cities after transport levels plummeted as people and workers stayed at home.

The study involved levels of the key pollutant nitrogen dioxide, which mostly comes from combustion engines in vehicles.

It found that in Manchester, levels fell by 39 per cent compared to the period pre-lockdown.

But, said experts at the University of York, there has not been the same impact on another form of toxic pollution, tiny particles known as PM2.5.

Levels have fallen sharply in Manchester (Image: Getty Images)

That's likely to be because the particles stay in the air longer, and are generated from more sources including agriculture and burning solid fuels, which have continued during the lockdown.

Easterly winds have also been bringing pollution from Europe, where the same is true.

But the fall in nitrogen dioxide gives a potential glimpse into the cities of the future, university bosses said, where most transport will not be from diesel or petrol vehicles, which the Government plans to phase out to tackle climate change and pollution.

Elsewhere, the data shows that during the lockdown, levels of nitrogen dioxide have fallen by almost half in Leeds, compared with the five-year average for the time of year.

The lockdown has forced motorists off the road (Image: Daily Mirror/Andy Stenning)

Newcastle and Cardiff have seen drops of around 45 per cent and Glasgow has seen levels fall 44 per cent.

Professor James Lee, of the National Centre for Atmospheric Science at the University of York, said the falls began before the official lockdown started, then decreased quite quickly before levelling out at the lower rate.

Looking at data from around 100 sites across the UK, mainly in cities, he said: "What we've seen since the lockdown is a reduction in nitrogen dioxide, which is mainly from vehicles, particularly diesel vehicles, quite uniformly in most places and certainly at sites near to roads."

A deserted Deansgate, mid afternoon (Image: Getty Images)

Last month, just seven days after the lockdown was announced, the Manchester Evening News reported that with fewer people on the move as all but necessary journeys were at first strongly discouraged and later banned, local monitoring stations were measuring much lower levels of dangerous air pollutants compared to the same time last year.

Air pollution in that immediate period was found to have fallen by as much as two-fifths.

Research by the BBC Shared Data Unit found levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) at the Manchester Sharston station averaged 15.0 micrograms per cubic metre between March 17 and 24.

That was down from an average of 25.5 micrograms per cubic metre between March 19 and 26 last year.

The UK Air Quality Strategy (2000) sets an objective that the annual average NO2 should not exceed 40 micrograms per cubic metre across a year.

There is evidence that high levels of NO2 can inflame the airways in our lungs and, over a long period of time, affect how well our lungs work. This can cause problems such as wheezing, coughing, colds, flu and bronchitis

People with asthma are particularly affected as increased levels of NO2 can cause more frequent and more intense attacks.


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