Air Pollution Begins to Decline as the Coronavirus Continues to Spread


Impact of the drop in pollution in China as shown from Satellites, Image Courtesy of NASA.

Through the escalation of what many people will remember of COVID-19, there are many different experiences that people are currently in, whether it is for the first time within their lives that they have seen shelves empty in stores, and people staying home whether working from home, or from the loss of a job. This impact on society has also provided another aspect: air pollution has dropped significantly.

According to National Geographic, China’s coal consumption was down by 18% than normal levels, with 250 million metric tons of pollution not released. In the European Union, the amount of pollution could lower by 400 million metric tons, with Italy showing lowering demands of natural gas as well as the United Kingdom. France has also experienced lower demands from their nuclear power. 

Here in the United States, as well as in other places in the world, traffic from vehicles has significantly decreased, with 38% of traffic being decreased by the end of March. In terms of electricity demand, there is no definite knowledge if it will decrease as residential demand increases as residents are remaining home. 

According to the New York Times, the European Space Agency and the Sentinel-5P satellite recorded amounts of nitrogen dioxide in the atmosphere in different cities within the United States. In Los Angeles, results were considerably lower during the first half of March in 2020 than in early March of 2019. In New York City, Columbia University has reported a 50% decrease in carbon monoxide emissions in late March.

However, as places such as China begin opening up production again and return to normal life, emissions have increased once again. Future infrastructure projects in China have shown a signal to a surge in carbon pollution, according to National Geographic. Some businesses are still closed in China, and some industries are experiencing a lack of demand which can create a possibility to slow the rate of increase. 

In the United States and Europe, there has been no rebound shown as of early April. From people staying at home in multiple countries across the world, overall pollution has significantly dropped from normal levels, and as society reacts and adapts to a new and unique event that the effects have not been seen since the Spanish Flu Outbreak in the early 20th Century, and the total impacts of the virus and society may not be seen for weeks, months, or possibly even years, but society can only watch before their eyes as pollution is only one aspect of life that has radically changed.