Coronavirus Lockdowns Forestalled Thousands of Air Pollution-Related Fatalities, New Study Finds

A new study reveals that the lockdowns imposed in various countries to curb the spread of COVID-19 at the beginning of the pandemic around Europe and in China improved air quality. This was seen in regions that suffered from high mortality rates caused by air pollution.

Scientists from the University of Notre Dame recently published research in the Lancet Planetary Health journal that showed the decline in particulate matter concentrations in Europe and China. During the lockdown that was imposed in Europe between February 21 and May 17, particulate matter concentrations reduced by 17.1% while in China, the concentrations reduced by 29.7% in the lockdown period of February 1 and March 31.

These concentrations are small airborne particles that come from different combustion-related sources, such as wildfires, transportation, industrial emissions and chemical reactions of pollutants in the atmosphere.

The corresponding author of the study, Paola Crippa, says that the lockdowns, which have led to forced low-emission scenarios due to restrictions, show that very polluted areas can improve immensely in reducing air pollution if strict measures are put in place.

Air pollution may not sound as a real threat but is actually considered to be the leading environmental cause of death. So, it is in fact, a real and credible threat. The World Health Organization released findings in 2016 that showed the number of premature deaths caused by air pollution worldwide to be 4.2 million. The Southeast Asian and Western Pacific regions were the most affected by this.

Long-term exposure to areas with high air pollution can be fatal to humans and their health, with many succumbing to death due to lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, stroke and ischemic heart disease.

The research team led by the author, who is also an assistant professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Earth Sciences at the University of Notre Dame, estimated that in China from February to March, about 24,200 deaths associated with particulate matter were prevented. They also noted that the improvement in air quality was recorded across China because of the lockdown measures that were imposed and extended. In Europe, the study estimates that 2,190 premature deaths were averted during the lockdown period.

This study highlights the need for stricter control policies to be developed and implemented in order to reduce air pollution and achieve effective air quality improvements. The policies may also include subsidies to electric vehicles as well as the adoption of strict emission limitations for industries.

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