Scientist hopes lessons of pandemic shutdown bring lasting changes to air and water quality

BOSTON — The coronavirus pandemic has touched every aspect of life, including the great outdoors. But in this case, the news isn’t necessarily bad.

By most accounts, air and water quality have been improving during the shutdown.

A visit to Boston Harbor, right downtown, will reveal crystal clear water.

“The activities that typically cause a change in water quality and water clarity in a place like Boston Harbor, those activities have been greatly diminished,” said Kelly Kyrc, Ph.D., Director of Conservation Policy and Leadership at the New England Aquarium.

Boat Traffic, which can kick up debris from the ocean floor, is way down.

Kryc also said there is also less automotive runoff as traffic is reduced.

The air we breathe is also getting a break, not only from less traffic but from a reduction in industrial pollution as the economy slows down.

“Of course we don’t want to see a pandemic as a reason to improve air quality,” said Michael Seilback of the American Lung Association. “But I think it’s illustrative of the effect that we can have on our environment.”

Seilback says there are lessons to be learned of how we can have a strong economy, while breathing easier in the future.

“Could we see a case where there are less people commuting to and from work every day? That we move into a society where more people are working from home,” asked Seilback.

Kryc believes the last six weeks have given many people a new appreciation of getting outside, and hopes that policy makers keep that in mind when the pandemic is over.

“I am absolutely delighted that people are noticing," Kryc said. "Again, the things that people are valuing, we value nature, and because of that I am hopeful that we’re able to implement lasting changes.”

Another interesting finding during this pandemic is the role pollution played in people contracting the disease and how well they recovered. Seilback says research has found that people in areas with poor air quality have been more likely to get sick, and have a harder time getting well.

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