Chile's coronavirus restrictions clean up the air around Santiago, study says

SANTIAGO (Reuters) – Air pollution in Chile’s capital Santiago, a sprawling metropolis and industrial hub of 6 million, has plunged in the past month by as much as a third as large swaths of the city have been shuttered to combat coronavirus, according to a report released on Thursday by the University of Santiago.

The university´s Antarctic Research Group compared pollution levels between March 15 and April 14 with the same period in 2019 and found contamination fell as much as 30%, the study said.

The sharp drop was “a product of the low concentration of nitrogen dioxide in the capital, a compound that results from the use of fossil fuels generated by both industry and vehicles,” the university said in a statement.

Scientists have documented similar declines in smog and contaminants in cities across the globe, from Europe to India and China, as industrial activity and transportation have all but shut down in many regional hubs.

Much of Santiago, which sits within sight of the glaciar-capped peaks of the Andes Mountains, has been shuttered for weeks in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Streets are devoid of people and traffic.

The unusual quiet may also have contributed to an increase in wildlife sightings around the city, including two cougars, or mountain lions, that were recently spotted among apartment blocks and condominiums in the past month, scientists said.

The University of Santiago report said decreased nitrogen dioxide concentrations in large cities of southern South America, including Santiago, were similar to those observed elsewhere across the globe.

“The fact that public transportation [vehicles] continue to circulate has impeded further declines in contamination,” the report noted.

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