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THE STATUS OF AIR QUALITY IN THE UNITED STATES DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC

About a year ago, in March 2020, companies and organizations around the world shut down or significantly limited production of goods and services as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown measures that followed. In doing this, fewer cars were on the road and high-emission operations decreased.

In a recent study led by Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry and Climate Yasin Elshorbany of the University of South Florida and scientists from NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Goddard Earth Sciences Technology and Research, and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and funded by the USF COVID-19 Rapid Response Grant Program, remote sensing was used to determine how air quality was impacted during this period of time.

“policies to reduce other emissions sources (e.g., industrial emissions) should also be considered, especially in places where the reduction in traffic volume was not effective in improving air quality.”

Excerpt from the study and implications for future air quality policy considerations

The team collected their data by using traffic data to estimate the lockdown period, and utilized remote sensing products that have coverage of several years before the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic to evaluate the air quality changes, as well as the effectiveness of the reduction in traffic volume on air quality in several states with diverse geographic and environmental conditions. The goal of the initial study was to focus on regions with a distinctive anomaly: New York (NY), Illinois (IL), FL, Texas (TX), and California (CA).

Results of the study found that lockdown measures and the significant reduction in traffic volume, coincide with reductions in CO and NO2. The study’s results indicate that reduction of traffic volume during the pandemic was effective in improving air quality in regions where traffic is the main pollution source, such as in New York City and FL, while was not effective in reducing pollution events where other pollution sources dominate, such as in IL, TX and CA.

"This large-scale experiment has allowed the research team to investigate how traffic reductions may affect air quality and to determine policies towards cleaner air, especially in states where other pollution sources dominate," Elshorbany said.

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The College of Arts and Sciences is the intellectual heart of the University of South Florida. We are a community of teachers and scholars united in the belief that broadly educated people are the basis of a just, free, and prosperous society. By focusing on the big questions facing all of humanity, we prepare students for successful, socially responsible personal and professional lives. By conducting innovative, interdisciplinary research and scholarship, we advance knowledge in ways that prepare us to address complex social and scientific problems and enhance the quality of life for people and communities.