Last spring, many environmentalists were cheering about the lockdowns’ side effects, such as reduced air pollution. While cars stayed parked and the air got cleaner for a few months, wildfires negated any lasting improvements. A new report from IQAir breaks down the winners and losers — mostly losers — in the air pollution battle.
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“You look at August through December, and you see the biggest impact on air quality is wildfires,” said Glory Dolphin Hammes with IQAir, as reported by Wyoming Public Media. In the U.S., those wildfires account for air pollution levels being higher in 2020 than in the preceding two years, despite all those people working from home and barely going anywhere.
The annual World Air Quality Report uses the measure of PM2.5 averages. This means particulate matter of 2.5 micrometers or smaller. These tiny particles float in the air, making their way into our lungs and even bloodstream as we breathe, with often dire health consequences.
The new report showed that the greatest increases in PM2.5 levels were in São Paulo (+5%), Melbourne (+1%) and Los Angeles (+1%). Wildfire season ravaged all three cities and the surrounding areas. In Sept 2020, 77 of the world’s most polluted cities were in the U.S. — 35 each in Oregon and California and seven in Washington. While fires were mainly responsible, Trump’s rollbacks of environmental regulations and lax attitude about the Clean Air Act didn’t help.
Overall, 37 of the world’s most polluted cities are in South Asia. Going by the U.S. AQI measurements, 80% of cities in Bangladesh, 67% of cities in Pakistan and 32% of cities in India qualify as “unhealthy” or worse. The most polluted city in 2020 was Hotan in China, mainly due to major sandstorms.
There were a few cities that came out as winners with improved air quality over the year. Singapore’s PM2.5 levels were down by 25%, Beijing’s by 23% and Bangkok’s by 20%.
Image via Sippakorn