March 19, 2021

Clean Air: The Overlooked Benefit of Lockdown

The world experienced a dramatic increase in air quality.

Going through the COVID-19 pandemic is a nightmare in many ways. We won't rehash all the life changes we've all had to endure. There was, however, one silver lining that many of us missed while hunkering down at home: the world experienced a dramatic increase in air quality because of the dramatic decrease in air pollution.

There was a 60% reduction in global levels of nitrogen dioxide after the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns.

COVID-19 forced much of the world to shut down and embrace the work-from-home lifestyle. This significantly reduced commuting and traffic, one of the major contributors to air pollution. A study published in Environmental Research found that global levels of nitrogen dioxide, a gaseous air pollutant, decreased by 60% when lockdowns were enforced across the globe in early 2020. They also saw a 31% decrease in other small air pollutants (called particulate matter) but a 4% increase in the air pollutant ozone.
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COVID-19 forced much of the world to shut down, significantly reducing commuting, traffic, and air pollution. Photo Credit.

Better air quality could not have come at a better time since there was also buzz that air pollution exacerbates COVID-19 infection rates and illness. But beyond that immediate benefit, scientists are gaining enthusiasm for the possible long-term health effects of living in a world with cleaner air.

Cleaning Up the Air

According to the World Health Organization, air pollution contributes to over 4 million deaths worldwide. It has been linked to developing different types of cancers, heart disease, and respiratory disease and infections. A recent study published in Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice now also connects the possible development of diabetes to air pollution. Because of the detrimental effects of pollution on health, many countries have created policies to decrease exposure to toxic air. Though global efforts have positively impacted air quality, the COVID-19 lockdowns have proven that we can do much better.

Global efforts have positively impacted air quality, but COVID-19 lockdowns have proven that we can do much better.

Because the world can't stay in perpetual lockdown, everyone has a part to play in keeping air pollution down during and after the pandemic. We've now experienced a tremendous benefit, for air quality and health, of reduced driving and traffic. And this wouldn't have been possible without mass participation.
Aside from getting out of the car, there are other ways we can cleanup the air. A paper published in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society highlighted some other meaningful ways to improve the air we breathe.
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