COVID-19 Lockdowns Led To 95,000 Fewer Air Pollution Deaths, Study Finds
Reduced traffic and industry shutdowns due to COVID-19 resulted in a decrease in the number of global deaths caused by air pollution, a study has found.
According to the new research, stay-at-home orders and other lockdown measures implemented in countries around the world over the past year contributed to a 50% decrease in the amount of nitrogen dioxide in the air we breathe.
Nitrogen dioxide is an emission that is most heavily linked to vehicle traffic and coal-burning power plants. As a result of the decline, the study says that premature deaths due to air pollution fell by 95,000 in 2020 compared with the previous year.
The study, which was published last week in Science Advances, used satellite imagery and ground measurements to monitor air quality in 36 countries across North America, Europe and Asia.
Their findings show the impact of lockdown was mainly seen in East Asia, with China – the world’s biggest polluter – accounting for 80% of the reduction in deaths, UPI reports.
By comparison, researchers say the United States only accounted for a ‘fraction’ of the drop in premature deaths. That’s because although levels of nitrogen oxide dropped by more than 4% in the country, overall airborne particulate matter levels remained ‘relatively stable’.
In all, lockdowns are thought to have resulted in a 30% drop in microscopic particulate matter released into the air through burning fuel. However, scientists have said the impact on pollution from particulates other than nitrogen dioxide was not as great as first thought.
Study co-author Guillaume Chaussiere, a researcher at MIT, told UPI:
Although the COVID-19 related lockdowns brought significant reductions in economic activities, air pollution levels did not decrease as much as had been speculated at first.
Chaussiere added: ‘Primary pollution [from] nitrogen dioxide had the largest decreases and associated health benefits, but, with the notable exception of China, secondary air pollution [from] fine particulates and ozone did not bring significant health benefits.’
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