Air Pollution in Major World Cities Has Dropped By as Much as 60% During COVID Shutdowns, Says New Report

As the world continues to wait out the worst of the coronavirus outbreaks, this new report says that air pollution is falling to record new lows in some of the most polluted global cities.

This week, IQAir, a global leader in air quality data and solutions, published a COVID-19 Air Quality Report that shows that air pollution levels in 10 major global cities have dropped by as much as 60% during government-mandated lockdowns due to the global COVID-19 pandemic.

The report examined fine particle pollution (PM2.5) in 10 cities while lockdowns were in place compared to the same period in 2019, as well as during the same periods in the previous four years. Cities included in the report are Delhi, London, Los Angeles, New York City, Madrid, Mumbai, Rome, São Paulo, Seoul, and Wuhan. All cities included in the report, except for Rome, experienced a reduction in air pollution levels during lockdown periods compared to the same time periods in 2019.

The most dramatic drops in air pollution occurred in cities with historically high levels of PM2.5:

  • Delhi experienced a 60% reduction in PM2.5 readings compared to the same time period in 2019.
  • The hours for which Delhi experienced “Unhealthy” rated air pollution fell from 68% in 2019 to 17% in 2020’s lockdown.
  • Seoul had a reduction in air pollution of 54% compared to 2019.
  • Wuhan saw a reduction in air pollution of 44% during its lockdown when compared to 2019.
  • Air pollution in Mumbai was down 34% during the lockdown period.
  • São Paulo was down 32% year over year.

Automobile-dependent Los Angeles saw its longest streak of clean air on record: during its lockdown period, fine particle pollution in LA was down 31% when compared to 2019, and down 51% when compared to the previous four-year average. New York City saw air pollution drop 25% as a result of its lockdown.

London and Madrid saw more modest reductions in air pollution at 9% and 11% respectively. Delhi, Mumbai and Los Angeles experienced their best March air quality on record in 2020.

“Across the globe, the coronavirus pandemic has had a monumental impact on the way we live,” said Frank Hammes, CEO of IQAir. “While the human and economic costs are devastating, we are also witnessing how much of air pollution comes from human activity. The drastic reduction in air pollution during COVID-19 lockdowns shows how our habits and behaviors directly impact the air we breathe. That’s an important insight [after] this unique Earth Day.”

While coronavirus-related lockdown orders varied by country, most included school closings, restricted movement by residents, the closing of non-essential businesses, and bans on social gatherings.

The report analyzed hourly PM2.5 readings recorded by seven governmental agencies as well as readings provided by supplemental, validated non-governmental monitoring stations. All locations and their data sources are visible on the IQAir AirVisual app and website.


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