Lockdown in Europe improves urban air quality

(ORDO NEWS) — In many European cities, from February to July 2020, there were strict restrictions related to the Covid-19 pandemic: the closure of public places, the transition to remote work, the cancellation of public events, isolation requirements, and more. Despite numerous social and health challenges, the lockdown has set the stage for exploring potential strategies to reduce urban pollution.

Scientists from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine assessed how restrictive measures have affected air pollution in 47 European cities. The researchers used data collected by the Copernicus Atmospheric Monitoring Service (CAMS), which has been making continuous observations of the atmospheric composition of European cities since 2014.

The results of a study published in Scientific Reports showed a marked reduction in levels of nitric oxide IV (NO 2 ), particulate matter less than 2.5 and 10 micrometers in diameter (PM2.5 and PM10) and other pollutants.

NO 2 decreased the most , as this substance is present in large quantities in exhaust gases, and traffic during the lockdown was severely limited. Thus, in the cities of Spain, France and Italy, NO 2 emissions fell by 50-60% compared to the previous year.

The scientists also compared two pollution scenarios, one of which corresponded to normal conditions, and the second to the period of the first wave of the pandemic. According to their calculations, the measures taken prevented 485 deaths due to NO 2 pollution . Overall, the lockdown prevented more than 800 deaths caused by all types of air pollutants, most of which would have been in major cities such as Paris, London, Barcelona and Milan.

Despite the sharp easing of restrictive measures in March and April 2020, throughout the observation period, pollutant levels remained lower than the usual scenario. The researchers also showed that restrictions on domestic and international travel had little effect on local pollution levels.

This and other similar studies not only highlight the importance of urban air quality to the health of residents, but can also be useful in creating public health policies to reduce urban pollution. The lockdown showed how air quality could be improved through drastic measures that were difficult to test under normal conditions.


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