A new nationwide study from Harvard University T.H Chan School of Public Health has linked COVID-19 deaths to long-term exposure to pollution. Researchers found an overlap between exposure to fine particulate air pollution (PM2.5) and a higher risk of death from COVID-19 in the US.
PM2.5, fine particulate matter, is an air pollutant that causes the air to appear hazy when levels are elevated and reduces visibility. The source for this pollutant are actions involving the burning of fossil fuels, which primarily comes from cars, trucks, buses, etc. Fine particulate matter has already been linked to weakening the immune system. In fact, multiple institutions have set safety guidelines of PM2.5 levels, for instance the US’s Environmental Protection Agency designated 12 micrograms of PM2.5 per cubic meter as the limit, while the World Health Organization has set the limit at 10 micrograms per cubic meter.
The study is composed of data collected from more than 3,000 counties in the United States (representing 98% of the population) up to April 22nd, from the University of John Hopkins, Center for Systems Science and Engineering Coronavirus Resource Center.
As a result, researchers found that an increase of just 1 microgram per cubic meter in PM2.5 levels can be attributed to a 15% increase in the COVID-19 death rate.
These results highlight, once more, the importance of regulating air pollution levels. According to the WHO air pollution was already killing 7 million people per year. Currently more than 90% of the world’s population lives in places where air pollution exceeds its guidelines limits.
While initial observations suggest that the virus is more dangerous in heavily polluted areas, more work is needed to prove this conclusively.