Lockdown did not reduce air pollution from tyre wear in London

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Less traffic meant less congestion, but the remaining vehicles went faster

I asked William Hicks how he felt when lockdown suddenly happened in the middle of his year-long air pollution investigation. “Excited,” he replied. Not the answer that I expected. “It was like moving the field laboratory to a whole new road.” Hicks, and his team from Imperial College London, were studying tiny particles from tyres, brakes and road surfaces on London’s Marylebone Road.

The inside of the field laboratory is a noisy environment full of the rattle of pumps, as an array of equipment measures the size and chemical nature of the air pollution. Hicks was measuring metal particles in the air to work out how much pollution came from each source. Barium particles are released from brake pads and zinc, used to vulcanise rubber.

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