Air Pollution Returning as COVID-19 Restrictions Loosen

Last month, we reported on the growing evidence that COVID-19 lockdowns were reducing worldwide air pollution by shuttering factories and limiting travel. Now, as those lockdowns begin to ease, scientists are finding that air pollution is on the rise again. Here’s what you need to know about the increased air pollution coming off of the COVID-19 restrictions and how it could affect you.


How Much Has Air Pollution Already Risen?


So far, the increases in air pollution have been fairly modest. Many countries are still under tight restrictions, and both industrial output and automobile exhaust are at a minimum. These countries, however, are beginning to slowly relax their restrictions, a phenomenon that has brought about a second wave of infections in many places. While the rising air pollution levels are perhaps less noticeable than the surge in COVID-19 cases, reopening is also pushing emissions back toward their normal level.


China, the first country to experience an outbreak of COVID-19, is an excellent example. The lockdown in the hard-hit city of Wuhan resulted in a 63 percent reduction of nitrogen dioxide, a key pollutant. According to recent data, the amount of nitrogen dioxide in China’s air in April was up from April of the previous year, showing just how quickly pollution has bounced back.


Because China was the first country to begin reopening, it is well ahead of most other countries. Elsewhere, though, gradual reopening is beginning to push air pollution levels higher.


Will Pollution Return to pre-COVID-19 Levels?


From the example seen in China, it’s clear that air pollution will eventually return to pre-crisis levels. The major worry among scientists, though, is that it could go even higher. Countries and private businesses pushing to recover from the economic collapse surrounding COVID-19 may begin increasing industrial output to make up for lost growth. Although it may be a long time before automobile emissions return to normal, industrial pollution is apt to bounce back quickly and even increase as economies begin to reopen.


The COVID-19 epidemic has also delayed measures meant to reduce air pollution. Compliance with new regulations is often expensive for businesses, which are already being hit hard as the economy plummets. As a result, legislators have been more open to delays on implementing or enforcing new measures. Even in California, a state known for its stringent air quality controls, officials have shown some willingness to put off new measures to help relieve the pressure on struggling businesses.


As life continues to ease back toward a degree of normalcy, we can expect to see air pollution returning to at least it pre-crisis levels. For this reason, we strongly recommend the use of a residential air purifier with HEPA and VOC filtration to protect yourself from airborne pollutants, especially if you live in a major city. For personalized product recommendations, feel free to contact us, and we’ll be happy to provide you with the information and high-quality air purification technology you need to keep yourself and your family healthy!