With much of the country shut down as the coronavirus forces people to stay at home, there has naturally been a drastic reduction of traffic on roads and highways. And with that decrease, there has been a dramatic reduction in pollution as well.
A satellite that detects emissions in the atmosphere linked to cars and trucks has observed huge declines in pollution in major metropolitan areas such as Los Angeles, Seattle, New York, Chicago, and Atlanta.
Los Angeles is infamous for its rush-hour traffic but that has pretty much ceased to exist. Similar changes can be seen in the San Francisco Bay Area, where nearly 7 million residents have been ordered to shelter in place. New York City is less dependent on car travel than in other metro areas, but the shutdown of office buildings, schools, and restaurants has nonetheless resulted in a substantial reduction of traffic on the streets of the city.
While this sudden decline in air pollution over U.S. cities has some near-term health benefits, those benefits are likely to be fairly minor in the big picture. When the coronavirus outbreak subsides and people are allowed to leave their homes and go back to their normal lives, air pollution will most certainly rebound to previous levels. In any event, studies have shown that long-term exposure to air pollution has a larger impact on public health than any transient events.
Having much cleaner air for a while is certainly a good thing, but this shutdown is not a sustainable way to reduce air pollution and the long-term effects of the coronavirus crisis will certainly not be positive.
Traffic and Pollution Plummet as U.S. Cities Shut Down for Coronavirus
Photo, posted March 15, 2020, courtesy of Tom Collins via Flickr.
Earth Wise is a production of WAMC Northeast Public Radio.
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