U.S. Air Quality Got Better During Pandemic: Study

By Robert Preidt
HealthDay reporter

MONDAY July 20, 2020 (HealthDay News) – Air quality in the United States has improved after businesses closed to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus, researchers say.

For their new study, they compared air pollution data from 122 U.S. counties between March 13 and April 21, on the same dates and in the same locations since 2017.

“Strong air pollution has been shown to play a role in the worsening of respiratory diseases, including the SARS epidemic in 2002,” said lead author Jesse Berman, assistant professor of health sciences. Environmental at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. “But the decrease in air pollution and the potential benefits are likely to be fleeting as policies are relaxed.”

Researchers focused on two main types of air pollution – fine particles (PM2.5) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) – which are known to cause health problems, including heart, lung and neurological problems.

The researchers also looked at the urban and rural differences, and whether counties had ordered businesses to close sooner or later in the pandemic, or not at all.

They reported that NO2 levels fell 25.5% this spring compared to previous years. The declines were significant in all counties – regardless of whether they closed businesses sooner or later during the pandemic.

Overall, PM2.5 levels showed a marginal decline. But counties that closed businesses early saw PM2.5 drop 11.3%, while urban counties fell 4.7%, according to the study published recently in the journal. Total environmental science.

The researchers said the decrease in NO2 was likely the result of decreased traffic, as more people worked from home and drove less.

PM2.5 levels have not dropped significantly as fine particles are distributed by a variety of industries that have remained open – including food production, construction, and power generation.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency announced in late March that it would temporarily stop enforcing air quality regulations in response to the pandemic.

“Any breach of regulatory compliance could potentially result in a greater risk of air pollution for sensitive populations,” Berman said in an academic press release.

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SOURCE: University of Minnesota, press release, July 13, 2020

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