The COVID-19 pandemic forced countries to take drastic measures to flatten the curve. Many instituted mandatory quarantine measures.
With more than a third of the global population under stay-at-home orders, a reduction in the spread of the virus is not the only interesting result of quarantine. Some amazing things are also happening regarding the earth’s environment.
Italy was among the first countries to take serious measures, including a full lockdown that began March 10. Residents were allowed to leave their homes only to purchase food or for medical treatment.
Italy’s country-wide quarantine produced a rather amazing environmental result. The normally murky, dark waterways in Venice’s famous canals are crystal clear.
Environmentalists attribute the clear waterways to a combination of factors:
- Less air pollution
- Lack of debris from tourists, as well as reduction of sewage discharge into the canals
- Near-zero boat traffic, keeping sediment at the bottom of the canals
Previous studies (1) indicated sediment chemical contamination of the shallow waterways close to the Porto Marghera industrial zone.
Since the lockdown began, pollutant levels in Italy have dropped significantly (2). Of particular note are the lower levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), which is considered to be harmful to human health. Less air pollution contributes to cleaner, safer water.
Reduction in Air Pollution Levels
Italy is not the only country experiencing the environmental benefits of quarantine. India — a country with 21 of the world’s most polluted cities (3) — has measurably cleaner air.
According to the Global Alliance of Health and Pollution (4), India accounts for more than 2 million pollution-related deaths annually. India went into a country-wide lockdown on March 25. In just one day, the levels of fine particulate matter or PM 2.5 dropped by 22 per cent, and NO2 levels decreased 15 per cent (5). PM 2.5 increases the likelihood of developing respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.
Indians also are seeing magnificent views previously shrouded by pollution, including the tallest mountain range in the world, the Himalayas. The Himalayas appeared clearly on the horizon from Punjab and Jalandhar (6) for the first time in 30 years.
Air quality isn’t the only improvement in India. A video (7) of the country’s longest river, the Ganges, showed clearer-looking water.
Wildlife in the Cities
Mountain goats roamed the streets of Llandudno in late March. Goats and sheep convened near an empty airport in Istanbul, Turkey, in mid-April. Wild boar were caught grazing in a garden near a residential building in Ajaccio, Corsica, also in mid-April. These are just a few of the examples of wildlife enjoying a quieter, less polluted environment created by humans now in lockdown.
Researchers stationed at the port of Vancouver, Canada, discovered a significant drop in low-frequency soundsfrom ships in the 100 Hz range from two nearby sites (8). The drop was measured at between four and five decibels.
Underwater noise at that frequency affects marine mammals, especially whales. The noise interferes with a whale’s ability to transmit and receive “calls” from other whales.
Food Quality Improvement
With less air and water pollution, can humans expect an improvement in food quality? It may be too soon to tell. One thing we do know is the effect air and water pollution have on human bodies.
A 2015 study (9) revealed the impact of soil and water pollution on food safety and on health. Researchers discovered that food produced in polluted soil and water in China increased the risk of the consumer developing carcinogenic diseases like cancer.
Protecting Your Health
As countries begin to ease restrictions, it is more important than ever to practice proper hygiene.
Handwashing is the recommended way to sanitise hands. Health experts suggest scrubbing up with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. A hand sanitiser is an effective alternative when access to soap and water isn’t available. Be sure to rub it in for 30 seconds, covering the entire hand for the best results.
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