About 15% of overall deaths worldwide from COVID-19 may be due to long term exposure to air pollution, as per a study published on Tuesday.
Researchers from Germany’s Max Planck Institute of Chemistry observed that the proportion of COVID-19 deaths linked to air-pollution about 19% in Europe, 17% in North America, and for East Asia, it is about 27%.
As published in the journal Cardiovascular Research, the very first study of its kind, to estimate the number of deaths from coronavirus that could be due to aggravating effects of air pollution in the world.
The research team recorded that these numbers are an estimate of a fraction of COVID-19 deaths that could have been avoided if the population wasn’t exposed to such a toxic level of air pollution that is caused due to fossil fuel-related & other anthropogenic emissions.
The given fraction doesn’t suggest a direct relationship between air pollution and COVID-19 mortality, the researchers said.
Instead, it refers to relationships between two, direct and indirect, i.e. by aggravating co-morbidities, or other health conditions, that could lead to fatal health outcomes of the virus infection, they added.
The researchers referred to epidemiological data from the previous US and Chinese studies of air pollution and COVID-19 and the SARS outbreak in 2003, supported by additional data from Italy.
This was combined with satellite data showing global exposure to polluting fine particles known as ‘particulate matter’ that is less than or equal to 2.5 microns in diameter (known as PM2.5), information on atmospheric conditions, and ground-based pollution monitoring networks.
The results are concluded based on epidemiological data collected up to the third week in June 2020 and the researchers suggest following a comprehensive evaluation as soon as the pandemic goes down.
Estimated fractions from individual countries show, for example, that air pollution contributed to 29 percent of coronavirus deaths in the Czech Republic, 27 percent in China, 26 percent in Germany, 22 percent in Switzerland, and 21 percent in Belgium.
“Since the numbers of deaths from COVID-19 are increasing all the time, it’s not possible to give exact or final numbers of COVID-19 deaths per country that can be attributed to air pollution,” said Professor Jos Lelieveld from Max Planck Institute for Chemistry.
“However, as an example, in the UK there have been over 44,000 coronavirus deaths and we estimate that the fraction attributable to air pollution is 14 percent, meaning that more than 6,100 deaths could be attributed to air pollution,” Lelieveld said.
“In the US, more than 220,000 COVID deaths with a fraction of 18 percent yields about 40,000 deaths attributable to air pollution,” he added.
According to Professor Thomas Munzel from the Johannes Gutenberg University in Germany, when people inhale polluted air, the very small polluting particles, the PM2.5, migrate from the lungs to the blood and blood vessels, causing inflammation and severe oxidative stress, which is an imbalance between free radicals and oxidants in the body that normally repair damage to cells.
“This causes damage to the inner lining of arteries, the endothelium, and leads to the narrowing and stiffening of the arteries. The COVID-19 virus also enters the body via the lungs, causing similar damage to blood vessels, and it is now considered to be an endothelial disease”, Munzel said.
He added, “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.”
As the pollution here in Delhi-NCR increased to the ‘very poor’ category again with an AQI of as lethal as 256, according to SAFAR. The ongoing COVID-19 outbreak is only going to make it worse.