Air quality significantly improved in European cities such as Milan and Madrid because of lockdown restrictions imposed to curb the spread of coronavirus, European Union officials said.
The improvements were particularly notable for the pollutant nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and fine particulate matter, which can both have a serious impact on people’s health.
The findings came as part of an EU report on air quality published on Monday.
It found that Barcelona’s NO2 levels sank by 59% during the early spring compared to the year before, while Madrid saw a 47% drop.
In Italy, NO2 pollution in Milan fell by 54% and in Rome by 39%.
Levels in many other metropolitan areas across Europe – especially western Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands – also dropped by significant margins.
Hans Bruyninckx, the executive director of the European Environment Agency, said: “Now we realise that this is, of course, temporary and that we should not be reaching air quality standards by locking down society.
“But it indicates that if we can keep pushing quality standards and if we can keep innovating in those sectors that, indeed, serious benefits to society, to human health, are there.”
Lockdown measures in several EU member states during the first wave of the pandemic had a major impact on economic activity, dramatically reducing road and air transport plus shipping.
These measures are believed to have affected the air quality in the regions.