Air pollution linked with 15% COVID-19 deaths worldwide, finds study

28 Octobre, 2020, 16:09 | Auteur: Anatole Charbonneau
  • Air pollution linked with 15% COVID-19 deaths worldwide, finds study

Approximately 150 deaths related to Covid-19 in Ireland and 15% deaths related to the virus worldwide could be attributed to long-term exposure to air pollution.

Researchers, including those from Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, Germany, found that in Europe the proportion of COVID-19 deaths linked to air pollution was about 19 per cent, in North America it was 17 per cent, and in East Asia about 27 per cent.

This attributable fraction does not imply a direct cause-effect relationship between air pollution and COVID-19 mortality, the researchers said.

It also drew on satellite data to show global exposure to PM2.5, information on atmospheric conditions and ground-based pollution monitoring networks to create a model to estimate the proportion of Covid-19 deaths attributable to air pollution. In the Czech Republic, researchers estimated that air pollution contributed to 29% of coronavirus deaths; in China, 27%; and in Germany, 26%. The results are based on epidemiological data collected up the third week in June 2020 and the researchers say a comprehensive evaluation will need to follow after the pandemic has subsided.

In Czech Republic, the figure was 29%, in China it was 27%, in Germany it was 26% and in the United Kingdom it was 12%.

Commenting on the study, Professor Anna Hansell, from the University of Leicester, said: "While it is extremely likely that there is a link between air pollution and Covid-19 mortality, it is premature to attempt to precisely quantify it, as here, given the current state of the evidence".

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"However, as an example, in the United Kingdom there have been over 44,000 coronavirus deaths and we estimate that the fraction attributable to air pollution is 14 per cent, meaning that more than 6,100 deaths could be attributed to air pollution", Lelieveld said.

"In the U.S., more than 220,000 COVID deaths with a fraction of 18 per cent yields about 40,000 deaths attributable to air pollution", he said.

"This causes damage to the inner lining of arteries, the endothelium, and leads to the narrowing and stiffening of the arteries". SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes the disease COVID-19, does the same: entering our bodies through our lungs, traveling through our bloodstream, and damaging our arteries.

"If both long-term exposure to air pollution and infection with the COVID-19 virus come together then we have an additive adverse effect on health, particularly with respect to the heart and blood vessels, which leads to greater vulnerability and less resilience to COVID-19", he said. "Even though you may not immediately notice that there's something wrong when you're exposed to high levels of air pollution, it causes conditions that make you more sensitive to disease and dying from these diseases".

Air pollution also makes receptors on our cells called ACE-2 more active.

The authors of the study concluded: "Our results suggest the potential for substantial benefits from reducing air pollution exposure". A lesson from our environmental perspective of the COVID-19 pandemic is that the quest for effective policies to reduce anthropogenic emissions, which cause both air pollution and climate change, needs to be accelerated. While soon there may be a COVID-19 vaccine, there's no vaccine for poor air or the effects of climate change. "The transition to a green economy with clean, renewable energy sources will further both environmental and public health locally through improved air quality and globally by limiting climate change". At the country level, the impact is even more pronounced. When the COVID-19 pandemic has passed, and the next pandemic comes, we may be at risk of more deaths again if we haven't addressed pollution.

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