A European research centre has calculated that the levels of nitrogen dioxide and fine particles fell by 40% and 10% respectively in April. In France, 1,230 deaths have been prevented. Stéphane Mandard explains in an article on Le Monde website.
By reducing air pollution, isolation would have saved 11,000 deaths in Europe in one month
In Italy, France or Germany, isolation has led to an unprecedented drop in air pollution. Fine particles and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) are responsible for more than 400,000 premature deaths every year in Europe, according to the European Environment Agency. Researchers have tried to estimate the number of lives saved due to this spectacular drop in pollution levels observed over the past month since implementation of measures to combat Covid-19. About 11,000 deaths have been avoided in Europe, according to a study published Wednesday April 29 by the young Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA), an independent international research organization based in Finland and supported by Climateworks and Bloomberg Philanthropies. Le Monde obtained access to the results of this study.
Germany benefits most from this drop in pollution levels which are linked to the slowdown in economic activity, with 2,083 deaths avoided, ahead of the United Kingdom (1,752), Italy (1,490) ), France (1,230) and Spain (1,081). These estimates are calculated from data from more than 3000 stations measuring concentrations of fine particles and NO2 across Europe in the period April 1 – 26, comparing them to levels of previous years and adjusting for weather conditions. Overall they show a decrease of around 40% in the average level of NO 2 and 10% for particulate pollution. The significance of the reductions in pollution levels depends on the country.
For NO2 , the most pronounced decreases were found in Portugal, Spain, Norway, Croatia, France, Italy and Finland. For fine particles, the improvements were greatest in Portugal, Greece, Sweden, Poland, Finland and Spain.
According to CREA, this fall in pollution is mainly explained by the drop in electricity production from coal-fired power plants and oil consumption (one third), mainly linked to the reduction in road traffic.
In addition to the deaths avoided, the study identifies other health benefits over the one-month period: 1.3 million fewer absences from work, 6,000 new cases of asthma avoided in children, 1,900 fewer visits to the emergency room because of acute asthma attacks and 600 fewer premature births.
“The unexpected benefits of the measures taken against coronavirus show how harmful air pollution is to our health and how neglected its effects on health are,” said Lauri Myllyvirta, chief analyst at CREA. Once this Covid-19 crisis is over, this improvement in air quality must be made permanent by setting up clean transport and energy systems. ”
Several studies, notably in Italy, have shown that air pollution was an aggravating factor of the epidemic and that fine particles could serve as a vector for the virus. The city of Milan, which was especially hard hit by Covid19 like all of Lombardy, has just announced an ambitious program to reduce the use of cars after the isolation measures are relaxed: 35 km of streets must be transformed during the summer, with widened sidewalks for pedestrians, new cycle paths and speed limits of 30 km / h.
“Air pollution must finally be considered a serious threat. As of May 11, it is imperative that we avoid returning to the use of the car for everything and traffic jams, and to encourage the least polluting means of travel,” said Marie Chéron, mobility manager at the Nicolas Hulot Foundation. The Climate Action Network, which brings together about thirty associations, is calling for France to set in place a “bicycle emergency fund” of 500 million euros to avoid a rush back to the private car as soon as isolation measure are relaxed.