The 10-day truckers’ strike that drove Brazil into chaos and even brought about calls for a military coup from far-right protesters and agri-business leaders also had a positive side effect: reduced levels of pollution in Brazil’s biggest city.
Paulo Saldiva, a researcher at the University of São Paulo (USP), decided to measure air quality levels this week in Latin America’s largest metropolis and came up with a remarkable takeaway: the strike cut pollution levels in São Paulo’s city center by half. “This is a rare episode and we will study its consequences for public health. Maybe this evidence will motivate new public policies in the transportation sector,” said Saldiva, upon presenting his results to the São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP).
Weekday mornings in São Paulo can be extremely stressful for drivers and commuters, as traffic jams can reach an average of 84 kilometers across the city. However, on the tenth day of the strike (May 29), São Paulo’s traffic engineering company registered no rush-hour traffic jams whatsoever.
Saldiva and his USP team will take data gathered during the strike (including pollution levels, daily traffic jams, mortality rates, and hospital admissions) and compare them to regular days, in order to evaluate the exact cost of pollution for the city. The researcher highlights the disability-adjustment life year (DALY) as a measure of overall disease burden, expressed as the number of years lost due to ill-health, disability, or early death. “Our study aims to understand this ‘hidden tax’, which is likely to be much higher than any kind of subsidy. It is a loss in health that we all pay and for which we have no self-defense”, Saldiva explains.
The strike began on May 21st but pollution levels remained stable for the first two days. However, as drivers began to face fuel shortages in São Paulo, streets became much less busy, causing an immediate impact on pollution levels.
Saldiva measures pollution in micrograms of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) per cubic meter of air. The researcher outlined to Nexo that pollution is not only related to traffic, but is also affected by atmospherical aspects such as wind, rain, and humidity.