First lockdown in France improved air quality, avoided thousands of deaths

According to the French health agency, about 2,300 deaths linked to a reduction in the French population's exposure to ambient particles were avoided. [EPA/YOAN VALAT]

Several thousands of deaths were avoided due to the reduced emissions of air pollution particles during the first COVID-19 lockdown, the French health agency said on Wednesday (14 April). EURACTIV France reports.

The massive downturn in activity and reduced traffic that came as a result of the strict lockdown imposed in the spring of 2020 were beneficial to the health of people, according to a report by Santé publique France.

According to the French health agency, about 2,300 deaths linked to a reduction in the French population’s exposure to ambient particles were avoided, while an additional 1,200 fatalities were prevented as a result of reduced exposure to nitrogen dioxide (NO2), mainly linked to road traffic.

In EU, 1 in 8 deaths linked to pollution: report

In the EU, 13 percent of deaths are linked to pollution, said a new report published on Tuesday (8 September) by the European Environment Agency (EEA), which stressed the current pandemic put environmental health factors in the spotlight.

The French agency recalled that for the 2016-2019 period, air pollution has caused no less than 40,000 deaths per year and reduced the life expectancy of people aged 30 and over exposed to small PM2.5 particulate matter by almost 8 months.

The agency called for “capitalising on some of the lessons learned from the spring 2020 lockdown analysis” while urging for continued efforts to reduce all sources of pollution.

To tackle air pollution, the agency urged people to change travel habits and called for teleworking to be more widespread. It has also suggested improving agricultural practices to reduce ammonia emissions, improve the thermal renovation of housing and reduce the air pollution impact of wood heating.

Addressing the issue of outdoor air pollution is all the more crucial because it is an aggravating factor for COVID-19, the agency said.

In September 2020, the Île-de-France Regional Health Observatory confirmed in a publication that “short- and long-term exposure to ambient air pollution is the cause of chronic diseases, and that pollution reduces the body’s immune response to infections. Thus, air pollution can be considered a co-factor of morbidity and mortality by COVID-19.”

Similar observations were made at European level. Last year, the Copenhagen-based European Environment Agency (EEA) said its data showed that the concentration of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) fell sharply in countries where lockdowns were imposed in the spring of 2020.

Lockdowns in European countries “may have some direct, short-term, positive impacts on our environment, especially in terms of emissions and air quality, although these are likely to be temporary,” the EEA said in a statement.

Air pollution fell, plastic use soared during Europe lockdowns

Coronavirus lockdowns in Europe have led to some environmental improvements such as better air quality and lower carbon emissions, but they are temporary and coupled with a surge in single-use plastic, the European Environment Agency (EEA) said Thursday (5 November).

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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