PM2.5 and Ozone Air Pollution Levels Have Not Dropped Consistently Across the US Following Societal Covid Response

11 May 2020, Version 1
This content is a preprint and has not undergone peer review at the time of posting.


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 non-attainment in the US. Post- covid response, average PM2.5 levels are modestly higher (~10%) than expected; average ozone levels are lower (~7%). However, the size of the post-response ozone anomaly is decreasing with time. In addition, no individual US state had lower-than-expected PM2.5 for all weeks post- covid response, and only one US state (California) met that criteria for ozone. 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 (~31%) concentrations post-covid. NO2 is a primary pollutant and is much more strongly associated with traffic than PM2.5 or ozone.


Covid 19 and air pollution
Air pollution in US
PM2.5 pollution in US
Ozone pollution in US
Covid 19
Stay at home order and air pollution


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