Air pollution’s link to Coronavirus pandemicDate: 15 April 2020 Tags: Miscellaneous
Two new studies show that Covid-19 patients are more likely to die if they live in regions with high levels of air pollution.
Even before the pandemic struck, outdoor air pollution was linked to the deaths of as many as nine million people each year.
The burning of fossil fuels in cars and factories creates soot and other too-small-to-see particles. Every breath filled with these particles slowly increases the risk of heart problems, strokes, asthma, pneumonia, and lung cancer.
These particles are so small that they end up in almost every organ in the body. The longer we study air pollution’s effects, the longer the list of diseases it’s linked to—now including Covid-19.
The new studies show just how bad it can get when air pollution collides with a rapidly spreading respiratory disease. The researchers found that a long-term air pollution increase of 1 microgram per cubic meter of small particles can raise the risk of dying from Covid-19 by 15%.
Covid-19 doesn’t impact everyone equally. In those who suffer severely, the virus is thought to move from the upper respiratory tract, where it can cause a sore throat, to the lower respiratory tract, where it causes inflammation in the lungs, which can lead to death if it spirals out of control.
A previous study had found that higher air pollution caused greater deaths from SARS, which was caused by a cousin of the current strain of coronavirus. A range of studies have found that air pollutants are linked to increased risk from influenza-type illnesses.
The short-term respite from air pollution that most big cities in the world are experiencing because of lockdown measures will save some lives, but only long-term reductions in air pollution can have lasting impacts.
Improving access to public transport, electrifying the transport fleet, raising regulations or pricing emissions on power plants and factories, and developing new technology alternatives to polluting industries, such as steel and cement- all these can lead to cleaner air.