Environmental Impact of COVID

Flinders Street Railway Station, Melbourne, Victoria; considered to be the central point of Melbourne, is usually a vibrant and bustling location full of locals rushing from the station to get to work, or tourists stopping to take selfies in front of the grand façade of the train station. Trams rumble past, cars line up at the traffic lights, and sometimes you may even see the horse driven carriage go past the intersection. Now, the busiest spot in Melbourne is nothing more than a ghost-town, thanks to the isolation measures enforced by the government to help control the spread of COVID-19. This is a sight in almost every city across the world. Go to any city and you’ll notice major highways are almost empty, tourist attractions are vacant and dining districts are eerily quiet. The impact of COVID-19 is being felt globally.

It is estimated that approximately 1/4th of the world’s population, or nearly TWO BILLION people are under varying levels of “Stay at Home” restrictions due to the corona virus. The massive impact the pandemic is having on the millions of people, industry in general & health industry in particular and on the economy of almost every country is well known and cannot be dismissed in the slightest. The uncertainty of how long the current situation will go on for is a big unknown, creating headaches for governments and employers alike. During a major turbulence and probably once in a lifetime global pandemic like this, it may seem a little insensitive however it is an opportunity to take stock and appreciate the positives from this catastrophic event:

  • People are spending more time with their families which has never been possible to this extent
  • The requirement / expectation of “Working from Home” are making organisation and employees adapt different approaches and be flexible to keep businesses continuing as much as possible
  • Restaurants, cafes and other food services are now adapting to the change in consumer demands by offering delivery options. By being flexible, they are staying afloat, and may be able to offer this as an ongoing service once the restrictions are lifted
  • School and University classes are being increasingly conducted online, allowing teachers & students to learn / develop new skillsets and new approaches to conducting education. This would not have happened to this extent till forced through the pandemic restrictions
  • And closer to home, for GloTech Process Solutions, one thing that is benefiting everyone in society: a cleaner and healthier environment.

Reduction in Emissions

Numerous media outlets have reported on and shared satellite images highlighting the reduction in pollutants in the atmosphere. The reduced atmospheric levels of CO2 and NO2 levels in highly industrialised countries France, Italy, India and China (as shown below in Figure 1) is quite stark. Given the current circumstances, it is safe to infer that the improvement is caused by the economic slowdown due to the coronavirus.

Figure – NO2 pollution levels variance across China in 2020 (Source: NASA Earth Observatory)

The reduction in NO2 emissions is a result of less combustion through drop in the production levels of industrial facilities, power plants operating at lower levels, a significant drop in number of aeroplanes flying across and far fewer motor vehicles being on the road. With most countries putting social distancing measures and lockdowns in place, the reduced emissions are a natural side-effect. Scott Collis, an atmospheric scientist at Argonne National Laboratory estimated that “Over China there was a 50% reduction in things like nitrous oxide and carbon monoxide due to the shutting down of heavy industries and factories”.

According to Stanford University environmental resource economist Marshall Burke back on March 8th 2020, in a situation that is developing every day, “even conservatively, it’s very likely that the lives saved from the reduction in pollution exceed COVID-19 deaths in China.” A controversial way to look at the pandemic for sure, but Mr Burke estimated the lower pollution levels across China saved 4,000 children under 5 and 73,000 adults over 70 in first two months of 2020. These are not official numbers, but rather a calculated estimate.

GloTech’ s work with Air Pollution Control

Having successfully completed a number of emissions control projects across Asia and having worked in some of the cities where the air pollution index was rated amongst the highest in the world, GloTech Process Solutions engineers have first-hand experience of how suffocating the high levels of pollution can be and how important it is to implement cleaner technologies. The VOC Abatement Systems installed by GloTech at several plant sites in Asia and around the world help capture and destroy volatile organic compounds created in the manufacturing process before they can be emitted into the atmosphere.

Air pollution from hazardous emissions is a major health concern as it can cause acute respiratory issues like asthma as well as long-term diseases that include stroke, heart disease, and cancer. The World Health Organization estimates that air pollution is annually responsible for seven million deaths. It has been suggested that poor air quality also makes people’s lungs more susceptible to the effects of COVID-19 because air pollution compromises our respiratory system. When the sources of pollution are removed, unhealthy air can clear up within a reasonably short time period, as seen with the satellite images during this pandemic.

Final Thoughts

The relief in emissions and pollution will only be temporary if humans do not learn from this pandemic. Once the social distancing measures are lifted and people resume what the old ‘normal’ life was, emissions and the pollution levels can go back to the levels before the pandemic, and very quickly too. The surge in emissions may in fact cause more harm to the environment, as outlined by Dr Gabriel da Silva from Melbourne University.

With a decline in human movement and manufacturing activities, we may have at least given the environment little bit of well overdue rest. It has unfortunately come due to a global pandemic causing significant loss of lives and ruined economise of several countries.

It would be extremely disappointing if we do not learn and do not change how we live, how we conduct our business and how we treat the environment. Corona virus has shown that humans and businesses can conduct themselves in a more environmentally friendlier manner. Once the pandemic is over, let us consciously choose to function in more environmentally conscious manner.