As American families deal with the dangerous wildfires and hurricanes that are sweeping through our nation, a series of studies have been published looking at the correlation between exposure to air pollution and Covid-19 deaths.
Although some the research is waiting to be vetted by “peer review,” there is already a tangible consensus on the current findings. The conclusions point to the premise that “exposure to air pollution increases the risk of dying from Covid-19.”
The United States, Italy, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom have come up with parallel outlooks, and the underlying presumption is consistent.
- Air pollution adversely impacts the cardio and respiratory systems.
- Lungs become inflamed from exposure to air pollution, especially fine particulate matter. (PM2.5)
- Particulate matter travels by air from one location to another, impacting larger swaths of people than just the site of origin. (This is true for both vehicular exhaust and smoke from fires.)
Each study worked off of specific yet commonly accepted baselines. These included the connections between air pollution and:
- Higher incidences of stroke, cancer, heart and lung diseases, diabetes, neurodevelopment, and cognitive function.
- Negative effects on the body’s immune system.
- Damage to the body at the cellular level.
All of the studies pointed to the consequences of variables including:
- Socioeconomic status
- Living circumstances (Nursing home residency)
- Pre-existing health co-morbids
While looking for links and connections, they considered how to best break down the information. For example, they weighed how to determine if an outbreak of urban COVID
was a result of elevated pollution, or a large number of people living in one consolidated area.
The United Kingdom examined the consequences of particulate matter, ozone, and nitrogen oxide. The researchers scrutinized the geographical areas where sources of pollution manifested. Particulate matter emanating from vehicle emissions was peak in cities. Ozone was maximum in rural areas.
On pre-existing conditions, the British researchers revealed that “35 percent of deaths involving Covid-19 had respiratory or cardiovascular diseases as a co-morbid.”
The report from the Netherlands found in their analysis that air pollution significantly increases Covid-19 “infections, admissions to hospitals, and deaths.”
The Americans at Harvard did a nationwide “cross-sectional study” focusing on continual exposure to air pollution, specifically fine particulate matter. They concluded that even “a small increase in the long-term exposure to PM2.5 leads to a large increase in the Covid-19 death rate.” This point was the impetus for a critical takeaway in their abstract: The importance of committed and ongoing vigilance to enforcing air pollution regulations.
They also discovered that long-term exposure to air pollution is not a standalone concern. Even though it is more detrimental than “short-term” exposure (from days to weeks),
transitory exposure is a risk as well.
The Harvard study concluded that a person in a zone of high particulate pollution was 8 percent more likely to die from the coronavirus.
In America, it has once again become clear that people of color living in front line communities burdened by air pollution are more vulnerable to Covid. Combined with barriers to healthcare insurance and services, an already lethal problem becomes magnified.
As data collection becomes more refined, a more concise picture will evolve. However, there is no denying the conclusion that these assessments have defined: The covid response needs to be ramped up and ready in highly polluted areas now!