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Traffic-related air pollution reduction at UK schools during the Covid-19 lockdown

Brown, Louis; Barnes, Jo; Hayes, Enda


Louis Brown

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Enda Hayes
Professor in Air Quality and Carbon Management


Elevated urban Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) is a consequence of road traffic and other fossil-fuel combustion sources, and the road transport sector provides a significant contribution to UK NO2 emissions. The inhalation of traffic-related air pollution, including NO2, can cause a range of problems to human health. Due to their developing organs, children are particularly susceptible to the negative effects of air pollution inhalation. Accordingly, schools and associated travel behaviours present an important area of study for the reduction of child exposure to these harmful pollutants.

COVID-19 reached the UK in late January 2020. On the 23rd of March that year, the UK government announced a nationwide stay-at-home order, or lockdown, banning all non-essential travel and contact with people outside of their own homes. The lockdown was accompanied by the closure of schools, public facilities, amenities, businesses and places of worship.

The current study aims to assess the significance of nationwide NO2 reductions at schools in England as a consequence of the lockdown in order to highlight the benefits of associated behavioural changes within the context of schools in England and potential child exposure. NO2 data were collected from all AURN (Automatic Urban and Rural Network) monitoring sites within 500 m of nurseries, primary schools, secondary schools and colleges in England. A significant reduction of mean NO2 concentrations was observed in the first month of the UK lockdown at background (−35.13%) and traffic (−40.82%) sites.

Whilst lockdown restrictions are undoubtedly unsustainable, the study results demonstrate the possible reductions of NO2 at schools in England and potential reductions of child exposure that are achievable when public behaviours shift towards active travel, work from home policies and generally lower use of polluting vehicles.


Brown, L., Barnes, J., & Hayes, E. (2021). Traffic-related air pollution reduction at UK schools during the Covid-19 lockdown. Science of the Total Environment, 780, 146651.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Mar 17, 2021
Online Publication Date Mar 20, 2021
Publication Date Aug 1, 2021
Deposit Date Mar 29, 2021
Publicly Available Date Mar 21, 2022
Journal Science of the Total Environment
Print ISSN 0048-9697
Electronic ISSN 1879-1026
Publisher Elsevier
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 780
Pages 146651
Keywords Environmental Engineering; Waste Management and Disposal; Pollution; Environmental Chemistry
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Additional Information This article is maintained by: Elsevier; Article Title: Traffic-related air pollution reduction at UK schools during the Covid-19 lockdown; Journal Title: Science of The Total Environment; CrossRef DOI link to publisher maintained version:; Content Type: article; Copyright: © 2021 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.