July 2, 2020 / 12:45 PM / a month ago

Backpack volunteers gather data showing pollution rising after lockdowns

A badge is seen on a special backpack designed to monitor pollution during the COVID-19 lockdown on Clapham Common, London, Britain June 29, 2020. REUTERS/Stuart McDill

LONDON (Reuters) - Alex George walks to work in southeast London with a pack of sensors strapped to his back, one of an army of volunteers gathering data that experts say suggest pollution levels may be bouncing back as coronavirus lockdowns ease.

The accident and emergency medic at Lewisham Hospital carries technology in a customised rucksack that measures levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and other chemical compounds floating around in the inner city streets.

In 13 other cities, from New York and Delhi to Milan, volunteers including fitness trainers and journalists have been out with the same gear, taking permitted walks during lockdowns to see if there are any noticeable changes.

Data from volunteers and other sources recorded falls in pollution after curbs came into force, according to Jessica Rowley, an engineer at vacuum cleaner company Dyson which says it developed the packs for a research study with Kings College London and the Greater London Authority.

“A lot of the cities are actually showing lower levels of NO2 compared to what it would normally be like at this time of year,” Rowley told Reuters.

“Some of those that are starting to lift their strict lockdown rules, we’re starting to see that trend go back to what we might normally expect for the time of year,” she added.

The plan is to keep measuring as lockdowns lift to check those initial indications.

George said many of his patients had reported feeling the benefits of getting exercise and walking outdoors during lockdown.

“Ultimately what we need to do is protect that, make sure we have an environment that’s clean, that’s safe, that’s healthy for people to enjoy,” he said.

Reporting by Stuart Dill; Writing by Andrew Heavens; Editing by Alison Williams

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