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According to a new report, the coronavirus pandemic lockdowns reportedly resulted in air quality improvements in most countries around the world. However, it is expected that the level of pollutants will go back to normal once government lift restrictions and the economy begins to recover. Overall, air quality improved in 84% of nations polled.
“Due to its ubiquity and severity, air pollution constitutes the world’s biggest environmental health hazard, contributing to as many as 7 million premature deaths globally per year,” the report reads in its introduction.
IQAir, a global air quality information and tech company, analyzed pollution data from 106 countries, specifically measuring PM 2.5, a microscopic pollutant that can cause serious health risks. Their 2020 World Air Quality Report noted that human-related emissions from industry and transport fell during lockdowns, and 65% of global cities analyzed experienced better air quality in 2020 compared to the year prior.
The report reads: “The connection between COVID-19 and air pollution has shone new light on the latter, especially as many locations have observed visibly cleaner air — revealing that air quality improvements are possible with urgent, collective action.”
The most significant air quality improvements were seen during the first lockdown period. Los Angeles experienced a PM2.5 reduction of -31% during its lockdown period, as well as a record-breaking stretch of air quality that met WHO air quality guidelines (< 10 μg/m3).
A new study recently showed that Los Angeles had the nation’s worst traffic in the nation. Even as the city has seen less cars out on the roads since the pandemic, as most cities around the country, LA is still the worst for congestion.
Per the report, South Asian and East Asian locations continue to top the list of most polluted places in the world. Hotan, a town in China’s western Xinjiang region, was ranked the world’s most polluted city in 2020. After Hotan, the next 13 most-polluted cities are all in India.
However, the global decrease in human-related emissions in 2020 were partially offset by “extreme air pollution events,” like wildfires and dust storms. These are linked to the worsening climate crisis and unpredictable weather worldwide. Wildfires in Australia, South America, Indonesia, and even California caused major spikes in air pollution, and emitted huge amounts of greenhouse gases. Los Angeles, Sao Paulo, and Melbourne — which were all impacted by severe wildfires — saw the greatest rise in PM 2.5 levels compared to 2019.
In the U.S., despite social distancing measures that reduced motor vehicle emissions, average air pollution exposure levels across the country were higher in 2020 than in two previous years. As aforementioned, the stagnated and worsening levels of particle pollution correlate with increasingly severe wildfires seasons, as well as rollbacks of environmental regulations and lack of enforcement of the Clean Air Act.
During September 2020, U.S. cities made up 77 of the world’s top 100 most polluted cities for PM2.5 by monthly average. Of these cities, 35 were located in California, 35 in Oregon, and seven in Washington.