COVID-19 Mortality Is Worsened By Air Pollution, New Research Finds

A Harvard research team finds that an increase of one part per billion of air pollution is linked with an 8% increase in COVID-19 mortality.

This article by Kathryn Atherton was originally published on Massive Science

a city blanketed in gray smog
Air pollution in Delhi, taken in 2019. Credit: Prami.ap90/Wikimedia Commons

The quality of air in your community can have a huge effect on your health. According to the World Health Organization, a third of heart disease, lung cancer, and stroke deaths can be attributed to air pollution exposure.

As the COVID-19 pandemic has suddenly caused the world to turn upside down, answers for how to slow the spread and improve outcomes for those already ill are needed. Researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health realized that there is a significant overlap between the underlying conditions that put people at high-risk for severe COVID-19 illness and health issues that are caused or exacerbated by air pollution, and wanted to know if the two are directly related.

The research team looked at air pollution and COVID-19 death data from over 3,000 counties across the United States, being sure to consider variables that might affect the results like population density, social distancing policies, and percent of people that are at high-risk for severe COVID-19 illness from other factors such as smoking and old age.

Their results showed that an increase of just one part per billion (PPB) in long-term air pollution exposure is significantly associated with an 8% increase in the COVID-19 mortality rate.

The authors noted that their results show how important it is to continue enforcing our air pollution regulations. Despite this and other evidence that air pollution leads to a number of public health concerns, the United States Environmental Protection Agency proposed relaxation of environmental rules during the pandemic.

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About Kathryn Atherton

Kathryn Atherton is a bioinformatics PhD graduate student at Boston University. 

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