Air Quality Awareness Week Day 5: Air Quality Around the World

This blog is part of a series about air quality and your health. See Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4

National Air Quality Awareness Week is May 3 - 7, and the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection (NDEP) is reminding Nevadans: "Healthy Air – Important for Everyone!” Throughout the week[SF1] [MDM2] [SF3] , we’ve shared helpful information and resources about Nevada’s air quality on this blog. As the week comes to an end, be sure to share what you’ve learned about healthy air by using the hashtag #AQAW2021!

What Is the Air Quality in Other Countries?

We’ve learned this week that air quality is affected by a lot of things, both natural and human-caused. But the quality of your air also depends on where you live. Due to a variety of factors, air quality is better in some areas than in others. The picture below shows a snapshot of the AQI around the world.

World Air Quality Index

Air quality can also change depending on the time of year, natural disasters, or even global pandemics. We’ve all seen our day-to-day lives changed by COVID-19. But the virus has also had a significant impact on air quality around the world.

Air Quality and COVID-19

It’s may come as no surprise that air pollution can make the health effects of a respiratory virus like COVID-19 worse. The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health recently published the results of a study that suggests an association between long-term exposure to air pollution and high COVID-19 mortality rates. So studies appear to show that air quality affects COVID-19; but it turns out, COVID-19 affects air quality as well.

In the spring of 2020, billions of people around the globe were told to say home in an effort to contain the coronavirus pandemic. These stay-at-home orders and other quarantine policies caused a significant decrease in air pollution in some countries. For example, China, South Korea, and India all experienced improved air quality while restrictions were in place. Italy and Spain saw similar improvements.

Even in the United States, some cities saw cleaner air, including Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

Unfortunately, while the western U.S. saw an initial decrease in air pollution due to COVID-19 restrictions, massive wildfires during the summer and fall of 2020 reversed many of those trends. And now, as restrictions are being relaxed, pollution concentrations have almost returned to levels seen before the pandemic.

Was the Impact to Nevada Similar to Other Western States?

Throughout most of 2020, Nevada saw clean air. The pandemic restrictions helped keep the air quality favorable for most of the spring, summer, and winter months – especially in rural Nevada. However, nearby wildfires caused air quality to decline in August and September.

For comparison, below are plots showing the 2020 air quality for Carson City, Nevada and Sacramento, California.

The graphs measure particulate matter, with green dots indicating “Good” air quality, and yellow and orange dots representing “Moderate” and “Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups” respectively. Notice the spike in particulate matter during the height of wildfire season:

Remember that air quality can change very quickly. Be sure to check your air quality and see the current conditions in your area.

Thanks For Following Us This Week!

As Air Quality Awareness Week 2021 comes to an end, we want to remind you that Healthy Air is Important for Everyone! If you have additional questions, please contact the air quality team at NDEP.