Air pollution eases in four major cities as pandemic measures keep people home

Physical distancing has eased rush hour congestion — and is clearing the air as well

A nearly empty street in downtown Vancouver on Tuesday, March 24, 2020. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Public health measures shutting down workplaces and schools to fight the COVID-19 pandemic have led to a noticeable reduction in air pollution in multiple Canadian cities known for their traffic congestion, according to satellite images shared with CBC News.

Toronto, Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver have seen drops in vehicle traffic over the last few days as physical distancing measures introduced to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus have kept Canadians closer to home.

Images from Descartes Labs of the major cities and surrounding areas show their average levels of atmospheric nitrogen dioxide (NO2)— a pollutant created by the burning of fossil fuels, such as gasoline — has plummeted compared to a year ago. The New Mexico-based geospatial analysis group shared the data with some news organizations, including CBC and the New York Times.