Satellite images have shown the disappearance of harmful pollution China and Europe when the world shut down in response to the coronavirus pandemic. But on the pitch in Milan, environmental economist Valentina Bossetti was puzzled the air wasn’t cleaner.
“What I expected, well, from tomorrow the air quality is going to be fantastic,” she said via Radio Resources. “But then we were struck by the fact that the air quality was not as good as we expected. What happened?”
Traffic was halted in northern Italy. Most industrial activities have been closed. Shops and schools have been closed. Because it was a hot spring, there was less home heating than usual.
“And so the big question is why haven’t we had a bigger effect? Said the senior scientist from the European Institute for Economics and the Environment. “And the answer, we find, is agriculture.”
In January, February and March, farmers in northern Italy spread cattle dung on open fields.
“It’s a very common practice,” Bossetti said. “And that releases a lot of ammonia. And this ammonia is a precursor of PM2.5.
“What this means is that with ammonia in the air, basically certain chemical reactions take place and secondary PM2.5 are formed. So the reason we didn’t see the reduction we expected was mainly due to agricultural activity. And that really got us thinking about the fact that this is a huge source of PM2.5. “
“I watched, and it’s also important in the United States,” Bossetti said. “But although this is a widespread problem, there is very little monitoring … There is much less monitoring of this type of pollution.”
The lockdown allowed Bossetti and his colleagues to demonstrate this agricultural pollution to the Lombardy Environmental Protection Agency and to the farmers themselves. Research could boost support for technologies that prevent the dispersion of ammonia from fertilizer.
“So now we can quantify how many lives you would have saved with the introduction of these technologies,” she said. “And we can justify even a grant to help them use these technologies that prevent ammonia from leaking into the air.”
Watch Valentina Bossetti on Resources Radio: