What is the impact of COVID-19 on global air and water quality?

Bottom Line:

The reduction of economic and leisure activities resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic has improved global air and water quality, but has also increased the production of medical wastes.


Saadat, S. et al. Environmental perspective of COVID-19. Science of The Total Environment (2020). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.138870

Date Published:

22 April 2020


As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, millions have been put under lockdown precautions and have adopted the daily use of gloves, sanitizer and face masks. This has resulted in a marked increase in the generation of medical wastes in the environment. However, there has also been a significant decrease in various economic activities, ranging from the shut down of small-scale local businesses, to large-scale transportation systems such as the airline industry. This has led to a notable decrease in carbon emissions. Compared to this time last year, air pollution levels in New York are 50% lower. Similarly, China saw a 25% decrease in emissions since the start of the year after the implementation of isolation measures and the closure of factories and large power plants. In Europe, satellite images show that nitrogen dioxide emissions have dropped over northern Italy, Spain, and the UK. However, experts believe that once this epidemic subsides, carbon and pollutant emissions will return to pre-pandemic levels and there will not be any positive lasting environmental impacts. Water pollution levels have also decreased around the globe, notably in Venice where reduced tourist activity has decreased sediment churning and deposition of water pollutants. Lastly, as millions have started to work from home during lockdown, global energy consumption profiles have shifted. Domestic energy consumption is rising quickly (from 6% to 8% in the US) while energy consumption has decreased in other areas. 

Summary by: Spandana Amarthaluru