Air Pollution Plunges Nearly 50% In New York As People Self-Isolate

by : Julia Banim on : 20 Mar 2020 10:21
Air Pollution Plunges Nearly 50% In New York As People Self-IsolatePA

With people in various major cities across the globe self-isolating due to coronavirus, scientists are seeing unintended environmental benefits.

Traffic congestion levels in New York City have plummeted by a third since the outbreak, with fewer cars on the road leading to levels of dangerous emissions being cut.


Researchers from Columbia University have discovered New York City’s carbon monoxide levels have dropped by almost 50% compared with 2019, with traffic on the streets falling by 35% since the virus outbreak. CO2 emissions have also declined by 5 to 10%, while methane levels have also dropped.

New YorkPA

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in New York doubled to 1,871 in just 24 hours between Tuesday and Wednesday, March 17-18, and these numbers are expected to rise further still.

According to BBC News, scientists have said that by May – a month when CO2 emissions peak due to leaves decomposing – air pollution levels might be at the lowest on record since the financial crisis more than 10 years ago.


Columbia University’s Professor Róisín Commane, who conducted the New York air monitoring work, said:

New York has had exceptionally high carbon monoxide numbers for the last year and a half. And this is the cleanest I have ever seen it. It’s less than half of what we normally see in March.

Furthermore, Professor Corinne Le Quéré of the University of East Anglia agrees, saying:

It will depend on how long the pandemic lasts, and how widespread the slowdown is in the economy particularly in the US. But most likely I think we will see something in the global emissions this year.

If it lasts another three or three of four months, certainly we could see some reduction.


Although it is still too early to be certain, this recent information suggests current instructions to stop any unnecessary travel has made a substantial impact; mirroring similar findings in China and Italy.

The European Space Agency (ESA) has record a notable reduction in emissions in northern Italy, which ‘coincides with its nationwide lockdown to prevent the spread of the coronavirus’.

Meanwhile, satellite images from NASA revealed a significant decline in China’s pollution levels, which has been at least partially attributed to an economic slowdown prompted by the outbreak.

New YorkPA

However, it’s expected improvements to air quality will only be temporary, and scientists have warned of a potential rapid rise in air pollution levels once we are on the other side of the pandemic.

Climate scientist Zeke Hausfather told Wired:

When the Chinese economy does recover, they are likely to see an increase in emissions in the short term to sort of make up for lost time, in terms of production. […]

Broadly speaking, the only real times we’ve seen large emission reductions globally in the past few decades is during major recessions.

But even then, the effects are often smaller than you think. It generally doesn’t lead to any sort of systematic change.


Scientists are advising governments to be careful when re-stimulating economies, focusing on things which could lower emissions – such as building renovation – and being careful not to lock in fossil fuels once again.

It’s okay to not panic. LADbible and UNILAD’s aim with our coronavirus campaign, Cutting Through, is to provide our community with facts and stories from the people who are either qualified to comment or have experienced first-hand the situation we’re facing. For more information from the World Health Organization on coronavirus, click here.

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Julia Banim

Jules studied English Literature with Creative Writing at Lancaster University before earning her masters in International Relations at Leiden University in The Netherlands (Hoi!). She then trained as a journalist through News Associates in Manchester. Jules has previously worked as a mental health blogger, copywriter and freelancer for various publications.

Topics: Health, Air Pollution, New York


BBC News and 1 other
  1. BBC News

    Coronavirus: Air pollution and CO2 fall rapidly as virus spreads

  2. Wired

    The Coronavirus Pandemic Is Bringing Down Emissions, but Not for Long