11,000 Air Pollution-Related Deaths Avoided In Europe As Coal & Oil Consumption Plummet

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Scientists are observing what the idling of cars and factories, and plummeting of the fossil fuel business, reveals in the satellite data from NASA and other vital environmental databases. It means a lot less pollution. This is a small, bright, and helpful sideline to the ongoing struggle with the coronavirus pandemic. An independent research organization, Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA), shares this speck of good news. CREA is focused on revealing trends, causes, health impacts from air pollution as well as the solutions to the problem.

Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air points out in the report that approximately 11,000 air pollution–related deaths were avoided as coal and oil consumption plummeted in Europe. Below are some of the scientific data showing the unprecedented reductions in burning of coal and fossil-related gas in Europe, and associated air pollution reductions. Overall, electricity generation from coal collapsed by nearly 40%, from gas almost 30%. Solar, hydro, and biomass electricity was up despite overall electricity generation being down 13%.

Measures to halt, or at least flatten, the curve and more quickly overcome the coronavirus have led to an approximately 40% reduction in average level of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) pollution and 10% reduction in average level of particulate matter pollution over the past 30 days, resulting in ~11,000 avoided deaths from air pollution (95% confidence interval: 7,000 – 21,000). The new CREA assessment (PDF) by Lauri Myllyvirta and Hubert Thieriot notes, “Coal and oil burning are the main sources of NO2 pollution and key sources of particulate matter pollution across Europe.”


Across the globe, people may be clapping in their windows for healthcare workers, but they are also enjoying a more vivid sunset, without the usual exhaust blowing in the window. They have new visions of the skylines across their cities.

Other avoided health impacts include:

  • 1.3 million fewer days of work absence
  • 6,000 fewer new cases of asthma in children
  • 1,900 avoided emergency room visits due to asthma attacks
  • 600 fewer preterm births

Note: most of these health impacts are linked to chronic air pollution exposure and will be realized over the coming months and years.

Lauri Myllyvirta reminds us of information similar to what was found in a recent study from Italy, noting that regardless of the temporarily improved air quality, air pollution has been contributing to the load on the healthcare system. People suffering from pre-existing conditions created or worsened by air pollution are more vulnerable to the disease. There are more people in need of healthcare for everything from asthma to stroke and diabetes. Still, Myllyvirta reiterates that this reduction in pollution has helped alleviate pressure on the health care system during the crisis.

“The CREA analysis highlights the tremendous benefits for public health and quality of life that could be achieved by rapidly reducing fossil fuels in a sustained and sustainable way.”

Drops in air pollutants are dipping to levels not seen in at least 70 years, providing easier breathing for people with respiratory ailments and offering consistently clear views of landmarks typically obscured by smog, such as the Hollywood sign in Los Angeles. The thing to remember is that we could achieve all of this with clean technologies like solar panel farms, wind turbine farms, and electric cars.

CREA summarizes the facts: “Health-harming pollutants from burning fossil fuels are responsible for at least 3 million air pollution deaths per year. However, rapid advances in modern, clean energy technologies are a key opportunity to improve air quality and protect public health. We use scientific data, research and evidence to support the efforts of governments, companies and campaigning organizations worldwide in their efforts to move towards clean energy and clean air. We believe that effective research and communication are the key to successful policies, investment decisions and advocacy efforts.

“As we are all anxious for life and business to return to normal, no one is looking forward to the return of fossil fuel pollution. It is vital for European decision-makers to prioritize clean air, clean energy and clean transport as a part of the plans for recovering from the crisis.”

Worldwide, as in New York (every night at 7:00 pm), people keep sending appreciation and love while clapping to the healthcare community. Surely many of them notice the clearing skies and will work to retain those once society is humming again.

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Cynthia Shahan

Cynthia Shahan, started writing after previously doing research and publishing work on natural birth practices. Words can be used improperly depending on the culture you are in. (Several unrelated publications) She has a degree in Education, Anthropology, Creative Writing, and was tutored in Art as a young child thanks to her father the Doctor. Pronouns: She/Her

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