Remote Work is Keeping Some Cities’ Air Cleaner

Central Park

A new study in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres revealed that remote work had kept air pollution lower than pre-pandemic levels even after restrictions were lifted in certain cities. 

A few months after the pandemic started and lockdowns were taking place over the world, there was news about how the water was cleaner and overall contamination levels were less as people had to stay home. Nearly two years have passed since the initial COVID-19 news, and a new study revealed that remote work keeps cities’ air cleaner. 

Study Shows How Remote Work Helps the Environment

The Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres study used data collected by satellites where researchers tracked the fall and rise of traffic-related air pollution in five U.S. urban areas from February to November of 2020. The cities were Atlanta, New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and the San Joaquin Valley in California. 

The results? In the latter four regions, air pollution did not return to pre-pandemic levels even as people resumed normal activities and employees started returning to the office. Atlanta had a delayed rise in NO2 but returned to pre-lockdown levels in August 2020. 

Shobha Kondragunta, a physical scientist at NOAA’s Center for Satellite Applications and Research who was the lead author of the study, shared: 

Even though lockdowns had been lifted, 25% of the workforce was still working remotely. So if employers continue to offer remote work policies, this could become the new normal in air quality.

When researchers applied their model across other major urban areas in the U.S., they found decreases in NO2 concentrations in most metropolitan areas from February to November 2020 compared to the same time period in 2019.


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