Air pollution associated with COVID-19 deaths

Matt Woodley

22/04/2020 4:31:52 PM

New research has linked PM2.5 and NO2 levels with increased mortality rates, prompting calls to strengthen air pollution standards.

Polluted sky over a city
Long-term exposure to Particulate Matter 2.5 has been associated with a 15% increase in the COVID-19 mortality rate.

An analysis of 4443 coronavirus-related deaths from 66 regions in Italy, Spain, France and Germany has found 78% came from five regions in northern Italy and central Spain where concentration levels of the air pollutant nitrogen dioxide are highest.
Another recent Harvard University study also found small increments of only 1 μg/m3 in long-term exposure to Particulate Matter 2.5 (PM2.5) is associated with a 15% increase in the COVID-19 mortality rate.
Doctors for the Environment Australia (DEA) spokesperson Associate Professor Vicki Kotsirilos told newsGP the Government ‘can’t ignore these figures’ and that local research is required to validate the results.
‘In the past, we have found that areas of high pollution are associated with increased risk of respiratory infections, lung and heart disease in the elderly, and of catching an infection in the elderly and in children,’ she said.
‘Clearly there are multiple risk factors related to serious COVID-19 infection – being elderly, immunocompromised, having cancer or existing chronic disease, smoking etc – but these international studies suggest air pollution may also be a contributing factor.
‘We’re really calling on the Federal Government to do more research in Australia to see if there is a correlation or association with air pollution and local fatalities as a result of COVID-19 infection.’

Dr-Vicki-Kotsirilos-article.jpgDoctors for the Environment Australia spokesperson Associate Professor Vicki Kotsirilos.

The National Environment Protection Council (NEPC) is currently revising air pollutant standards for nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide and ozone, and Dr Kotsirilos said the coronavirus pandemic presents a ‘unique opportunity’ to strengthen safeguards in Australia.
‘It highlights the need for us to revise and tighten air pollution standards in Australia, because there will be more infectious diseases like this in the future,’ she said.
‘Air pollution especially impacts people living or working in cities or high density areas, near freeways, roads with a high total number of vehicles, industry and coal-fired power stations, which all contribute to elevated levels of nitrogen dioxide and particulate matters.
‘If there is a possible association between air pollution and mortality related to COVID-19 infection, it adds to the total weight of the evidence that we really need to reduce the amount of harmful pollutants in the air we breathe.’

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