Believe it or not, staying home during pandemic has improved our air quality

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — It’s no secret that our normal routines have been put on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic. But what you may not realize is that while we are staying home to help keep our neighbors healthy, we are also helping our air quality.

During March and April, every state saw mobility drop by more than half at some point when compared to pre-pandemic levels.

For 26 states, the maximum decrease was over 90 percent. Mobility is a statistic representing the distance an average person moves during the day.

We all have noticed less traffic out on the roads. In North Carolina, vehicle miles fell by about 67 percent from early March to mid-April.

There is also less traffic in the sky. As of May 8, the TSA at RDU screened 8,168 passengers over a seven day period ending on May 7. That’s down 94.5 percent from the same week in 2019.

RDU did experience a slight increase in traffic over the past couple of weeks, but passenger levels are still down 95 percent year over year.

This decrease in travel has led to an increase in local air quality. Transportation represents 28 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

As travel declined, so did our March nitrogen dioxide levels. Nitrogen dioxide is the leader in smog-forming pollutants. Levels fell about 40 percent in the Southeast when compared to a 2015-2019 baseline.

The improvement to short-term air quality may not last as travel increases and we move into the summer months, but this is a live example of how lower emissions can positively impact our overall health.

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