Covid-19 and Air Pollution

As I mentioned earlier, in the past couple of years of the pandemic, air pollution has killed a lot more people than Covid-19.  Yet one is treated like an emergency while the other is more or less ignored. I think that is a big mistake.

Air pollution no doubt contributed to the effects of Covid-19.  How could it not?  Covid-19 usually effects the respiratory system. So does air pollution.  As Beth Gardner reported in the National Geographic,

“When Covid-19 began tearing around the globe, Francesca Dominici suspected air pollution was increasing the death toll. It was the logical conclusion of everything scientists knew about dirty air and everything they were learning about the novel coronavirus. People in polluted places are more likely to have chronic illnesses, and such patients are the most vulnerable to COVID-19. What’s more, air pollution can weaken the immune system and inflame the airways, leaving the body less able to fight off a respiratory virus.”


Dominici is a professor of biostatistics at Harvard and she has created a data platform that aligns information on the death of millions of Americans with a day-by-day summary of the air those people who died were breathing. What a great idea! But the results of her investigation were disturbing. Her data goes back for 20 years.

How she got the data is an interesting story in itself, but I will leave you to read the article in the Geographic. She was collecting the information for years before any one had ever heard of Covid-19.

First of all, she and her researchers noticed that even in places where air quality standards were met, pollution was linked to higher death rates. This meant the air quality  standards were too lax! The air that will meet the standard won’t be safe enough. Of course, death is not the only result of bad air.  Other health conditions are also concerning if you care at all about quality of life. I know I do.

The research team discovered that a host of ailments that required hospitalizations had gone up wherever there was air pollution. Her research showed that things like kidney failure and septicemia also went up where air quality was poor. They learned that air quality with particulate matter, even very small matter, had a big effect.

For example, as Beth Gardner explained her findings,

“added to a mountain of evidence demonstrating the dangers of PM2.5, or particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrometers, about a 30th the width of a human hair. Some of those particles—of soot, for example—can cross into the bloodstream. Scientists have found them, including even tinier “ultrafine” particles, in the heart, brain, and placenta.”


The researchers found there was a very close connection between Covid-19 deaths and poor air quality. As she said,

“the places where decades of exposure to bad air had primed people’s bodies to be susceptible to the coronavirus. Worldwide, the team reported in December, particle pollution accounted for 15 percent of COVID-19 deaths. In badly polluted countries in East Asia, it was 27 percent.”


This surprised many ordinary people, but most scientists were not so surprised. Dominici said, It made perfect sense.” She already knew what much of the public doesn’t—that dirty air ends far more lives, and with far greater regularity, than the novel coronavirus.”

Its time we started to realize that. This is also an environmental problem is not something in our future; it is with us here and now.

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