Pollution in pandemic times

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Studies show that our air quality can influence the risk of death from coronavirus

The problems caused by our poor air quality are nothing new. According to the UN, more than 7 million people die annually from complications due to air pollution. In Brazil, the Ministry of Health pointed a 14% increase in deaths during the last decade.

The issue, however, becomes even more serious in the context of the coronavirus, with studies indicating a direct relationship between pollution and the increased risk of death from the disease. A study by Martin Luther Halle-Wittenberg University showed that in countries with high death rates, such as Italy, Spain and France, 78% of cases occurred in the five areas where the pollution rates are highest. According to the report, these regions have high concentrations of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), a pollutant harmful to human respiratory systems.

Respiratory problems are some of the most serious complications caused by the coronavirus, hence its direct relationship with interferences in the air. Another analysis released by Harvard University showed that, in the 3.080 US cities analyzed, a small increase in exposure to air pollution could have a significant effect on the severity of COVID-19 symptoms.

However, if there is a positive news in the midst of this pandemic, it is the fact that air pollution has been reducing with the recent isolation measures. With empty streets, cars in garages, sea traffic practically interrupted and the drastic drop in the number of air travels, nature seems to be relieved after a long time.

According to the World Meteorological Organization – WMO, we can expect a drop of up to 6% in global C02 emissions during the year. In cities like São Paulo, satellite images also show a drastic reduction in pollution when compared to 2019. Environmentalists have even proved that the absence of boats has reduced noise pollution in the oceans, influencing lives of animals such as whales.

Global carbon emissions from the fossil fuel industry could also fall to a record of 2.5 billion tonnes this year, a 5% reduction that would represent the biggest drop in fossil fuel demand ever recorded in history. The news could not be more positive: UN data show that air pollution due to the use of fossil fuels caused 4.3 million deaths in 2012, with 60% of the victims being women and girls. They are also the largest emitters of greenhouse gases, representing 60% of the amount.

Bright Cities knows that cities have a fundamental role in preserving the environment and encouraging cleaner and more sustainable energy models. Whether prioritizing cleaner transport options, such as bicycles, or investing in renewable technologies and carrying out rationing campaigns, our platform is able to diagnose the efficiency of public services and find the best solutions to solve them.

We do so this based on 160 international indicators, some of them directly related to air pollution, such as the “Concentration of Fine Particulate Matter (PM2.5)” and “Emissions of greenhouse gases per capita”. Others are also aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals, among them the SDG 7 – Accessible and Clean Energy, whose mission is “to ensure reliable, sustainable, modern and affordable access to energy for all”.

In our most recent study on air quality in cities, we found out that only 134 municipalities in Brazil have this measurement, with 394 air quality monitoring stations providing information in an open way. They are:

The results prove the urgence for more effective measures to improve air quality in our cities, especially in a time of pandemic such as the current one. Besides collecting and diagnosing information about air pollution, our platform is also specialized in mapping positive initiatives for cities, with a database that includes more than 1000 smart solutions for smart cities.

Many of them offer concrete actions to reduce polluting emissions, such as CityTree the world’s first biotechnology filter capable of improving air quality. In a structure 4 meters high, 3 meters wide and 0.6 meters deep, the panel combines specific cultures of moss and vascular plants that eat particulate matter (PM), nitrogen dioxide and ozone – doing so, it has the same effect as 275 urban trees. It can be installed anywhere in the city and is ideal for collecting environmental and climatic data.

Want to discover more initiatives that can help your city mitigate the effects of coronavirus? Visit our database and search for “CORONAVIRUS” in the search field.


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