The world is facing one of the deadliest pandemics in recent times known as COVID-19. It caused a lot of issues to normal lives and changed the way humans were interacting. Millions of people are infected and a million are left dead. However, with all the bad, the lockdowns to control the spread of COVID-19 left a significant impact on air pollution.
There are two recent studies in AGU’s journal that suggest what was the change in air pollution as a result of lockdowns. These lockdowns in most parts of the world were a direct result to control the spread of the disease.
The study suggested that nitrogen dioxide levels decreased by as much as 60% in countries like northern China, Europe, and the US. The data were compared between the first parts of 2020 at the same time in the previous year. About nitrogen dioxide, this is one of the highest reactive gases. It is produced after combustion and is fatal for the lungs. Vehicle’s smoke, industrial waste and powerhouse emissions are the major sources of NO2.
There is another particulate matter, whose pollution also decreased by up to 35% in the northern parts of China. This is composed up of solid substances as well as liquid droplets and can penetrate inside the lungs. Thus, they damage the lungs.
These studies were a part of recent studies on the impact of a pandemic on our lives. Earlier in 1990, when the air pollution data started to be collected from satellites, this was the first time when we saw this large decrease in the world’s pollution levels. There was a short-term decrease in pollution in 2008 in Beijing at the time of the Beijing Olympics.
Some people argue that this decrease was temporary. However, what humans learned from their study is what will help us in the future. If we make strict pollution control regulations in the future, we know how much we can achieve. Stavrakou said that in the worst time of this pandemic, a significant control in pollution was positive news.
But still, things are not the best. With NO2 levels decreasing, we also saw an increase in surface ozone levels. Ozone is harmful to humans and causes various heart and pulmonary issues. Nitrogen oxide usually destroys the surface ozone. However, the decrease in NO2 level means that the ground was open for surface ozone.
Air quality improved as a result of lockdowns, but surface ozone is still a major problem. So, reducing the NO2 level doesn’t guarantee to solve other issues.
The results were deducted after taking worldwide data from satellites. Areas of focus were countries that were worst affected by COVID-19. It included China, Iran, South Korea, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, and the US.
In northern China, the decrease in the NO2 was up to 40% while that in Western Europe and the US was between 20-38%. There was no significant improvement in Iran because no strict lockdowns were imposed there till Iranian New Year celebrations in March.
China’s Air Quality
The study was more concerned about China which was the epicenter of the pandemic. China was also one of the first places where strict lockdowns were imposed. There were around 800 ground stations that reported the stats from northern China.
The pollution reduced by up to 35% while the NO2 level reduced as much as 60% in northern China. It was all because China was the first to impose lockdowns starting from 23rd January. However, the surface ozone level increased by almost 1.5 to 2%. On the ground, ozone forms many complex reactions, and we must figure out how to solve it.