Studies find that air pollution is linked to far higher Covid-19 death rates.
Recent studies have shown that there is a link between an increased death rate in Covd-19, with the most recent study stating it may be “one of the most important contributors” to deaths from Covid-19, The Guardian reported on 20 April, 2020.
Long term exposure to air pollution is already known to be linked to increased likelihood of developing respiratory diseases such as lung disease and acute respiratory distress syndrome which is a cause of Covid-19 related deaths as well as other respiratory and heart problems. This is because pollution such as NO2 impairs the first line of defence of the upper airways and can inflame the lining of the lungs - reducing immunity to lung infections – therefore someone who lives in an area of high pollution will be more prone to develop chronic respiratory conditions.
Research by Yaron Ogen, of Luther University Halle-Wittenberg in Germany looked at at coronavirus deaths from 66 regions across Italy, Spain, France and Germany, and found that 78% of them occurred in five regions and these were the most polluted.
In another study from the US published on 7 April 2020, it found that people in polluted areas are far more likely to die from the coronavirus than those living in cleaner areas. It looked at fine particle pollution in the US and saw that even small increases in levels in the years before the pandemic were associated with a 15% increase in death rate.
The US study, by the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health in Boston, analysed air pollution and Covid-19 deaths up to 4 April in 3000 US countries which covered 98% of the pollution. “We found that an increase of only 1μg/m3 in PM2.5 [particles] is associated with a 15% increase in the Covid-19 death rate,” the team concluded. A small increase in exposure to particle pollution over 15-20 years was already known to increase the risk of death from all causes, but the above study showed this increase to be 20 times higher for Covid-19 deaths. Previous research also found that air pollution exposure dramatically increased the risk of death from the SARS coronavirus during the 2003 outbreak.
In another report from Italy, the higher levels of air pollution in the north of Italy correlated with the higher death rates in that area of the country. There has been a reduction in air pollution due to widespread global lockdowns, so hopefully the current analysis could be used to ensure cleaner air in the future that would help reduce Covid-19 and other respiratory related deaths.
The newest research, published in the journal of Science of the Total Environment by Ogen, compared the NO2 levels in January and Februrary in 66 regions with Covid-19 deaths recorded up to 19 March. Ogen found that 78% of the 4,443 deaths were in fourt regions in northern Italy and one around Madrid in Spain. These five regions had the worst combination of NO2 levels and airflow conditions that prevents dispersal of air pollution. It’s important to note that the analysis by Ogen was able to show a strong correlation, not a causal link, we will have to wait longer for more data to be gathered that includes other factors such as age or lifestyle habits such as smoking to truly understand the impact fully.
What ongoing research into the correlation between Covid-19 deaths and air pollution can do is show governments the importance of enforcing existing air pollution regulations as well as seeking to introduce clean air zones. In the UK, NO2 has been at illegal levels in most urban areas for the last decade. It may also encourage populations (especially those with high pollution exposure) to take extra precautions to protect ourselves as citizens. With Covid-19 possibly being part of our lives for a long period of time there are ways for us to protect ourselves to try to minimize ourselves from pollution exposure.
We have blogged about top tips for avoiding pollution in the city including the use of our Face Guard Pollution Scarf that has an integrated nanofiber filter that filters out particulate matter such as pollution, allergens and pollen and is washable and reusable.