Air pollution levels rise with easing of lockdown, Newsline

CAPE TOWN – Going into level one of the lockdown, vehicle emissions may be increasing air pollution back to pre-pandemic levels.

Air quality in Cape Town showed signs of positive change due to the national lockdown but harmful gasses from burning wood and coal for cooking remained the same. Air pollution remains a concern throughout the country.

This is what the CSIR research scientiest Mogesh Naidoo said of the city and the country’s air pollution.

At the beginning of the national lockdown, the brown haze visible over the City Bowl had scattered, said Lize Barclay, a senior lecturer in futures studies and systems thinking at the University of Stellenbosch Business School.

“The period of better air quality may not have been long enough to see any lasting effects, since impacted health may not rebound immediately,” said Naidoo.

He said that in Cape Town CBD vehicles would contribute a lot to pollution in the area.

“There are also some areas within a CBD that are impacted by small scale combustion from heating and cooking,” he said.

Slow activity during the lockdown made research easier for CSIR to dig deeper at air quality and to pin-point if certain emission activity slowed down.

“The lockdown gave scientists a natural dataset to look at how effective specific air pollution management options could be. The level of benefit is also practically seen, and hopefully decision makers and the general public take more interest in the air they breathe,” he said.

Air pollution levels will rebound to pre-pandemic levels as emission activity resumes, stressed Naidoo.

“However it is very unlikely that pollution would be higher than pre- lockdown,” he said.

Suzie J’Kul from local organisation ToadNUTS, which aims to conserve the western leopard toad, said that when lockdown started, biodiversity flourished everywhere.

Animals were frequenting the roads and using them as paths to migrate along safely.

“During the lockdown curfew, we witnessed the western leopard toad peak breeding season,” she said.

As the human race, we are responsible for our environment and one of our responsibilities is to ensure that we kill less, said J’Kul.

“If we are on the road at night, the least we can do is drive slowly in biodiversity sensitive areas,” she said.

At the beginning of the lockdown, the city saw traffic volumes on the roads dropping significantly, said mayco member for transport Felicity Purchase.

Traffic volumes on the roads dropped by 80% at the beginning of the lockdown.

“Under alert level 5, it remained fairly steady. At alert level one, it seems around the same, but last week was a “short work week” with the public holiday on Thursday. There was a brief peak of 81% on Wednesday, the day before the long weekend,” she said.

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