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Drop in pollution levels shows working from home is way forward, says Armagh Observatory scientist


Armagh Observatory

Armagh Observatory

Armagh Observatory

Employers should continue to let staff members work from home after the lockdown is lifted to help the environment, an astrophysicist has said.

Dr Marc Sarzi, head of research at the Armagh Observatory and Planetarium (AOP), insisted government orders across the globe to keep citizens at home had corresponded with a fall in traffic and industrial activity worldwide.

This in turn, he revealed, has led to a "remarkable" decrease in air pollution levels.

The expert explained this could even be found in parts of Northern Ireland, pointing out that Armagh City was deemed our most polluted city in 2017 by the World Health Organisation.

Coronavirus Data Graphs

He said data from the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs from this week had shown the city is now enjoying "very low levels of pollution".

Dr Sarzi believes the current improvement in pollution levels should remind world leaders that if the will is there, huge strides forward can be made in improving the environment post-pandemic.

"The last time the international community came together to take steps to improve pollution levels was to tackle the hole in the ozone layer. Major steps were taken, such as banning CFC gasses, and it has led to big improvements," he said.

"What we are seeing during this period of lockdown is pollution levels really dropping right across Europe. Of course, this is only temporary, and they will increase again once people return to their normal routines."

The astrophysicist insisted governments should seize this opportunity to improve air quality by allowing workers to continue to work from home once the lockdown is over.

"Even if we worked from home for three days per week and returned to the office for two days to hold critical meetings etc, it would have a major impact on pollution levels."

Dr Sarzi, who is originally from Italy, suspects heavy pollution in parts of his home country may be contributing to the high mortality rate connected with Covid-19.

"Large parts of northern Italy, where the virus has been most deadly, are surrounded by the Alps which restrict air flowing through the country and sweeping away pollution.

"It has been found that pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide, which comes from burning fossil fuels, can, over long-term exposure, lead to respiratory health problems. People with respiratory problems can be susceptible to the worst complications from viruses such as this coronavirus."

Dr Sarzi added: "The levels of pollution in Italy since the lockdown have reduced by a half."

He also stressed the pandemic's impact on air pollution has also saved lives.

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