PARK CITY, Utah — Researchers at the University of Utah are studying how air pollution changed throughout the pandemic in Park City.
Air quality sensors were originally installed in November and December 2019 to track how pollution fell and rose during ski season; but then the pandemic hit, changing the nature of the study.
This allowed for a natural experiment to occur.
During the initial pandemic lockdown in March 2020, air pollution levels fell across the board as restaurants shut down and people stayed in their homes. But as businesses started to reopen six weeks later, pollution started to rise again.
Researchers also found pollution levels changed in different areas of the city, shifting from commercial to residential zones.
“Residential areas had an increase in pollution because, again, everyone was getting goods delivered; they were ordering items, they were ordering food, for example, from restaurants and also people were starting to order, even their groceries, so now we saw a shift of pollution from commercial areas into residential areas,” said Daniel Mendoza, Assistant Professor of Earth and Atmospheric Science at the University of Utah.
July 2020 marked the end of the initial study, showing commercial emissions were still lower than pre-pandemic levels, while residents emissions were back to normal.
Mendoza says pandemic level emissions could serve as a baseline goal to reduce air pollution overall, but more research still needs to be done to see what pollution levels look like in a normal year.
Mendoza says he doesn’t think Park City traffic is completely back to normal just yet, but researchers are still monitoring the sensors and they believe data from 2022 could be more of a true baseline to measure pollution levels.