Air pollution kills approximately 7 million people every year worldwide. According to researchers from McGill University, airports are hotspots for airborne pollutants that are detrimental to human health and the Earth’s climate.
Studying air pollution at three major Canadian airports the researchers found that airports situated in colder climates accumulated more pollutants like PM2.5 in the fall and winter, compared to airports in milder climates. The smallest and the coldest airport with the least number of flights and passengers had the highest PM2.5 concentration.
PM2. 5 refers to particles with a diameter of fewer than 2.5 micrometres (more than 100 times thinner than human hair) that remain suspended for longer. These particles are formed as a result of burning fuel and chemical reactions that take place in the atmosphere
“Meteorological factors such as the cold temperature and snowfall concentrate pollutants and alter their distribution. Targeted reduction of PM2.5 emissions is recommended, especially for cold climate regions where we observed higher concentrations of pollutants,” says Professor Parisa Ariya of the Departments of Chemistry and Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences.
During the COVID-19 lockdown, the researchers found that concentrations of PM2.5 and other particles in residential areas close to one airport decreased to such an extent that they conformed to the recommended workplace health threshold.
Before the lockdown, it exceeded this threshold. “The drop in the concentration of pollutants due to COVID-19 reveals how much pollution is generated at airports during normal activities. It also shows how much pollution workers and residents of the area are exposed to, especially during cold seasons,” says Professor Ariya.