As virus shuts down cities in Europe, pollution drops

Science

Italian Carabinieri police officers man a road block in Milan, Italy, Monday, March 16, 2020. Italy is on a nationwide lockdown to contain the COVID-19 virus outbreak. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms. For some it can cause more severe illness. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

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BERLIN (AP) — The European Union’s space agency’s earth-observation satellites have detected a significant reduction in the pollutant nitrogen dioxide, a byproduct of the use of diesel motors and other human activities, in northern Italy as the advance of the COVID-19 has led to drastic measures curtailing ordinary life.

The agency’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service reported Tuesday that with the “abrupt changes in activity levels” in northern Italy, it has tracked a “reduction trend” of nitrogen dioxide, or NO2, for the last four to five weeks.

So far, Italy has been the hardest hit country in Europe by the new coronavirus, and the government has implemented a wide lockdown, encouraging its 62 million people to stay home unless it’s absolutely necessary to go out.

Similar drops in pollutants were detected in China after the government there implemented widespread shutdowns to try and slow the spread of COVID-19.

NO2 is a short-lived pollutant, staying in the atmosphere generally less than a day before being deposited or reacting with other gases, meaning it remains fairly close to where it was emitted, the agency said.

Most emissions are generated by human activities such as traffic, energy production, residential heating and industry.

“It is quite remarkable that a signal of decreasing activity levels could be detected,” said Vincent-Henri Peuch, the director of the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service. “This shows the extent of the measures taken by Italy.”

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