PM2.5 and Ozone Air Pollution Levels Have Not Dropped Consistently Across the US Following Societal Covid Response
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Analysis of a large national dataset of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and ozone air pollution from the US Environmental Protection Agency indicate opposing differences in average concentrations during the covid response period, relative to expected levels. These are the two most important pollutants in terms of public health impacts and regulatory non-attainment in the US. Post-covid response, average PM2.5 levels are slightly higher (~3%) than expected; average ozone levels are slightly lower (~4%). The size of post-response ozone anomaly has decreased with time and by week 6 after the first stay-at-home order was enacted (April 29- May 5, 2020), ozone levels were higher than expected. In addition, no individual US state had lower-than-expected PM2.5 and ozone for all weeks post- covid response. Two non-covid factors, meteorology and regional transport, do not fully explain observed trends. These findings are unexpected given the large reduction in many household’s activities associated with “stay at home” and other covid responses. We hypothesize that this result partly arises from the fact that ozone and the majority of PM2.5 are secondary pollutants formed in the atmosphere from emissions from many sources (i.e., not just traffic). Preliminary analysis of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) data in a few cities reveals substantially lower-than-expected (~30%) concentrations post-covid. NO2 is a primary pollutant and is much more strongly associated with traffic than PM2.5 or ozone.