Breakdown: Why COVID-19 may have improved global air quality

Breakdown: Why COVID-19 may have improved global air quality

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) -Corona virus has definitely altered our lives in unprecedented ways but there may be some positives when it comes to air pollution globally.

Some recent research found that nitrogen dioxide and PM2.5 which is fine particulate matter, dropped over parts of China, Europe and the U.S. The drop was UP TO 40% in some areas as compared to last year this time.

Nitrogen dioxide is a gas that can have harmful effects on the lungs. The gas usually enters the air by industrial activities, vehicles, and power plants. PM2.5. or particulate. Particulate matter is a type of pollution that consist of small drops that can get into the lungs and cause damage. It can cause lung disease, difficulty breathing and heart conditions.

Data from satellites, found that, for the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, March 2020 had the lowest monthly atmospheric NO2 levels of any March since at least 2005. Research found that nitrogen dioxide pollution dropped by around 40 percent on average over parts of China and by 20 to 38 percent over parts of Western Europe and the United States . This reduction happened during the lockdown. Results were way different when it was compared to this same time last year.

According to studies, parts of Los Angeles which is infamous for heavy traffic and smog, has seen some improvements in air quality that can be traced back to the shelter in place orders due to the coronavirus. Prior to the safer at home or stay-at-home orders, air pollutants, including NO2 and PM2.5 (fine particulate matter), was in the medium category. Recent finding showed that air quality had improved by 20% in some places. The Los Angeles area also saw around a 30 percent decrease in particulate matter polution. Particulate matter pollution also dropped by 35% in China. The weather may have also played a part in the drop as the weather patterns have been active and not so stagnant.

Atmospheric scientist, warn that these drops are huge and likely temporary. The last time that they saw a drop like this was the Olympics in Beijing in 2008. This was due to the strict regulations that were in place and it was very short-term. The only other comparable events are short-term reductions in China’s emissions due to strict regulations during events like the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

On the flip side a drop in nitrogen dioxide may not be all good news. Research found that pollution increased when it comes to surface ozone levels in China. Ozone is another pollutant secondary that forms when sunlight and high temperature produces a chemical reactions. Ozone at ground level is harmful and can cause pulmonary and heart disease. In the right conditions, ozone at the ground level can be destroyed by nitrogen oxides. So when there is a reduction in nitrogen oxide than ozone levels can increase.

One place they didn’t see a decrease was Iran where lock-down orders weren’t put into place until later.

Scientist say that while this improved air quality may only be temporary, it is a good indicator of how things can improve but more research needs to be done.

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