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COVID-19 meant less cars on the road and improved air quality in Florida, study finds

The study looked at air quality in states with high traffic volumes.
Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto
Traffic on the highway with downtown Skyscrapers on the background. Miami, USA

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Florida's air quality improved during the coronavirus pandemic as the state saw a dramatic decrease in traffic, according to research done by the University of South Florida.

The study looked at air quality in states with high traffic volume, such as New York, California, Texas, Illinois and Florida. The results showed that during the peak of nationwide lockdowns - between March and May - air quality had significantly improved in Florida, which saw the number of cars on its roadways nearly cut in half, according to the study.

Yasin Elshorbany, an assistant professor of atmospheric chemistry and climate at USF, led the project. She says she was able to analyze the impact lockdowns had on air quality by using remote sensors that measured elements in the air, specifically elements like nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, ozone and aerosol particles, which are typically emitted from cars.

NASA conducted a similar study last year but instead looked at air pollutants across the globe. The agency found pandemic restrictions had reduced global nitrogen dioxide concentrations by almost 20 percent. 

However, Elshorbany's research also revealed that the reduction in traffic did not offset other forms of pollution in cities like Chicago, Illinois and Charleston, West Virginia. Air quality in those areas actually worsened due to an increase in industrial emissions.

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