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Substantial decreases in NO2 emissions from reduced transportation volumes in US cities during COVID-19 shutdowns reveal health vulnerabilities of urban populations
  • Gabriel Filippelli,
  • Asrah Heintzelman,
  • Vijay Lulla
Gabriel Filippelli
Indiana University - Purdue University Indianapolis

Corresponding Author:gfilippe@iupui.edu

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Asrah Heintzelman
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Vijay Lulla
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The air pollutant NO is derived largely from transportation sources, and is known to cause various respiratory diseases. Substantial reduction in transport and industrial processes around the globe stemming from the novel SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus and subsequent pandemic resulted in sharp declines in emissions, including for NO. Additionally, the COVID-19 disease that results from the coronavirus may present in its most severe form in those who have been exposed to high levels of air pollution and thus have various co-morbidities. To explore these links, we compared ground-based NOsensor data from 15 US cities from a one month window in 2019 versus the same window during shutdown in 2020. Levels of NO declined roughly 20-60% in 13 of the 15 cities in 2020, linked to similar declines in traffic volume in those cities. To broaden the spatial analysis beyond the individual ground-based monitors, satellite data for tropospheric NO was also analyzed, and was largely consistent with the ground measurements. Many of the cities studied had a substantial percentage of the population with various pre-existing conditions, and a relationship was found between NO levels, respiratory disease, and COVID-19 case counts. This finding indicates that substantial improvements in air pollution and health outcomes can be achieved quickly with local and state policy directives, perhaps leading to more population-level health resilience in the face of future pandemics.