With the new virus in the air, people in fear of contracting the disease have locked their doors. Factories, offices and schools have been on lockdown around the world, which means the number of vehicles on the road is at a minimum. With almost no cars on the road, the new disease has us wondering whether the air pollution levels have decreased in light of the curbing of human activity.
Is it possible that the COVID-19 pandemic has benefits?
A picture taken by NASA shows the drastic fall in Nitrogen Dioxide during the COVID-19 lockdowns in Wuhan and the surrounding Hubei provinces. Nitrogen Dioxide is a pollutant that causes severe tissue damage if inhaled. It is released during the combustion of fossil fuels. The shutting down of factories is thought to be one of the factors affecting this drastic decrease as it can be seen that when the factories in the areas reopened, the NO2 levels rose again. Professor Marshall Burke from Stanford University projected that the COVID-19 lockdowns resulted in saving the lives of nearly 4,000 kids under 5 and 73,000 adults over 70 in China who would have otherwise died due to air pollution.
COVID-19 lockdowns resulted in saving the lives of nearly 4,000 kids under 5 and 73,000 adults over 70 in China
The European Space Agency released the time lapse videos of both Italy and China’s NO2 levels displaying a significant reduction during the time the countries were in lockdown. They also estimated a 20-30% decrease in suspended particulate matter (SPM) in the air in large parts of China. SPM is also known to be the leading cause of death from air pollution. Studies conducted by Columbia University show that the carbon monoxide due to vehicular emissions in New York have dropped by 50% as a result of the virus outbreak. Additionally, a 5-10% drop in carbon dioxide was also seen in New York.
India is no exception to the phenomenon, with the air pollution levels dropping 71% in just one week in New Delhi during the lockdown, according to eco watch’s online magazines. According to the Economic times’ online magazine, the AQI of Delhi sank to 93 as compared to 161 this time last year. The nitrogen dioxide levels all over India are falling as well, from 52 per cubic meter to 15 during the lockdown in Delhi. According to the Hindu’s online magazines, the rivers such as Cauvery are displaying major improvements with the lack of industrial pollution, coupled with the waste such as clothes stemming from religious practices.
Although it is obvious that pandemics aren’t good for the human population, is it possible that COVID-19 may help people realise the dire need for us to see more lucidly the impact we are having on our planet? As Marshall Burke puts it “The fact that disruption of this magnitude could actually lead to some large (partial) benefits suggests that our normal way of doing things might need disrupting.'' While, many experts believe that in light of the trends it is unlikely that the air will suddenly be cleaner after the pandemic, we all hope that countries start investing in cleaner fuel in an effort to keep their skies blue.
“The fact that disruption of this magnitude could actually lead to some large (partial) benefits suggests that our normal way of doing things might need disrupting.'' -Marshall Burke