Air pollution has decreased tremendously in Europe, especially in big cities where containment measures have been imposed to curb the spread of the new coronavirus (Covid-19), the European Environment Agency (EEA) noted in a study published on Wednesday.
Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels have even been halved in some areas, mainly as a result of the drastic reduction in vehicular traffic.
According to the EAA study, which examined air quality in 3,000 sites across Europe, NO2 levels went down by 40% to 55% last week in Barcelona, Madrid and Lisbon.
NO2 concentrations in the last four weeks were less than a quarter of what they were a year ago in Milan, and up to 35% less than the same period of last year in Rome, while last week’s levels were 47% lower in Bergamo, a town also hard hit by the health crisis.
“The EAA’s data shows an accurate picture of the drop in air pollution, especially due to reduced traffic in cities,” the EEA’s Belgian Executive Director, Hans Bruyninckx, commented. “However, addressing long-term air quality problems requires ambitious policies and forward-looking investments.”
“As such, the current crisis and its multiple impacts on our society work against what we are trying to achieve, which is a fair and well-managed transition to a resilient and sustainable society,” Bruyninckx said.
Exposure to nitrogen dioxide can cause breathing problems, asthma attacks and increased risk of infection. Many experts have also warned that people suffering from respiratory ailments could be extra vulnerable to Covid-19.
However, it is not yet clear whether continued exposure to polluted air worsens the condition of persons infected with the virus, the EEA said, stressing that further epidemiological research was necessary to answer questions of that nature.
Poor air quality causes about 400,000 premature deaths in Europe per year, according to the EEA.