Health & Science

Lockdown reduced deaths caused by air pollution in France

A French health agency shows that the limited traffic on roads brought non-neglectable health benefits thanks to a better air quality.

The French National Health Agency published a study highlighting that the reduction of air pollution during spring 2020 had led to “non-neglectable health benefits“. Limited transportation was the main factor of improvement.

In total, the agency estimated that 2,300 deaths due to air particles were avoided during France’s first Covid-19 lockdown, between March 16 and May 11, 2020.

It is also estimated that 1,300 deaths were avoided because of a lower level of nitrogen dioxide, a pollutant primarily generated by combustion engines, and fertilizers. (Both figures cannot be summed up as different air pollutants can be combined factors in death).

More than half of the persons who are spared from pollution consequences live in urban areas of more than 100,000 people.

Reducing pollution contributed in slowing down the number of diseases on the long term, and alleviated difficulties of people coping with existent pathologies, the agency concluded.

Lockdown improved air quality in Metropolitan French urban areas
Lockdown improved air quality in Metropolitan French urban areas

New travel habits with lasting benefits for air quality

Between 2016 and 2019, there were 40,000 estimated deaths of people over 30 that could be attributed to air pollution every year in France. It is 7% of the national mortality rate. Life expectancy is reduced by 8 months for adults over 30 in France because of air pollution.

The figures are however a significant improvement compared to the results in 2008 with a reduction of 8,000 deaths, or -17% in a decade.

Air pollution mostly come from house heating systems, industrial activity, road traffic or pesticides.

The agency wants to pinpoint the lasting air quality benefits that the lockdown revealed.

A number of learnings can already be drawn in terms of public actions and changes in behavioral patterns, such as working remotely and travel modes that will likely be long lasting in France“.

For instance, the use of bicycles in France has dramatically increased since the surge of the pandemic: +67% after the first lockdown compared to 2019 in Paris.

The agency also suggests the use of wood-fired heating systems, instead of fuel-based systems, the dimininution of ammonia in agriculture or energy-efficient renovations of houses as beneficial factors to air quality.

During April 2020, traffic on French roads shrank by 77% during lockdown which also led to a 56% drop of casualties in road accidents.

However, despite an overall drop of deaths on roads, the Netherlands recorded the highest levels of cycling deaths in 25 years. Deaths also increased during periods with less traffic intensity.

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