20 Oct 2020
COVID-19 and air pollution: What could be worse?
Winters are on its way and so is air pollution in Delhi NCR. According to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), Delhi’s air quality index was worse than in the same period in 2018 and 2019. Not only in India but in all the countries affected by coronavirus (COVID-19), it has been widely established that […]

Winters are on its way and so is air pollution in Delhi NCR. According to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), Delhi’s air quality index was worse than in the same period in 2018 and 2019.

Not only in India but in all the countries affected by coronavirus (COVID-19), it has been widely established that air pollution compromises the respiratory system. According to the World Health Organization, ambient air pollution causes 4.2 million premature deaths annually. Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, scientists have discovered that excess pressure is exerted on the patient’s respiratory system due to air pollution.

Representative Image/Credits: Tom Cunniff

A previous ecological study conducted during the SARS pandemic of 2003 that affected parts of China, Hong Kong and Canada discovered a positive correlation between SARS-related deaths and ambient air pollution in both short-term and long-term exposure.

Given the close relationship and similarities in the symptoms of COVID-19 and SARS, it is anticipated that a similar observation may be found in the COVID-19 pandemic. This provides an indication of how air pollution may affect a person infected with COVID-19. 

It is believed that the main route of transmission of the virus is through human respiratory droplets and direct contact, according to the Joint Mission report from China in late February. Yet, it has also been hypothesized that the COVID-19 virus can be transmitted by particulate matter (PM) and aerosols.

According to doctors, respiratory illnesses like viral influenza increase with a spike in pollution levels as poor air quality leads to inflammation in the lungs making it more vulnerable for the virus to penetrate. “This year, we have Covid-19. Like

we have Covid-19. Like the common cold, the transmission of this virus is expected to increase with a rise in pollution levels. We may see a further surge in cases. “It would be a taxing time for testing centers as they have to cater to people with coronavirus and also non-Covid patients with similar symptoms,” Dr. Neeraj Nischal, an associate professor in the Department of Medicine at AIIMS told media.

A preliminary experimental analysis was conducted which identified the gene of COVID-19 in an ambient PM sample in Italy and concluded that PM may potentially act as a transporter of the virus, although the virulence of COVID-19 remains unknown (i.e. vitality of the virus). Scientists also suggest that PM may serve as an early indicator of the epidemic recurrence by identifying the virus genome in PM. 

The study found that even a small increase of 1 μg/m3 in PM2.5 levels were associated with an 8% increase in COVID-19-related fatality.

Prior exposure to air pollution may aggravate the health impacts of COVID-19 and increase the risk of death by suppressing immunity. A systematic review has identified that people with prior chronic diseases like hypertension, diabetes, respiratory system disease, and cardiovascular disease could be more vulnerable to COVID-19 by triggering proinflammatory responses and causing immunity impairment.    

The plausible linkage between air pollution and viral spread still requires more thorough studies to confirm the hypothesis. Air pollution, on the other hand, has long been proving its harmful effect on human health and causes a burden on healthcare systems. The preliminary studies that have shown a possible link between air pollution exposure and COVID-19 related deaths, no matter how small, should be an indication that air pollution needs to be urgently tackled. A global transition to cleaner energy will help safeguard the health of humanity and prevent these unnecessary deaths.

If we talk about India, lockdown and shutdown were a temporary solution to the COVID but also with ups and downs in many industrial sectors the economy booming in many of our cities since the turn of this century the number of road vehicles and dusty construction sites has multiplied, and outdoor air pollution has become a major health hazard and COVID-19 a major killer.

According to experts, the worsening air in and around Delhi is particularly harmful for those suffering from respiratory ailments and could make them more vulnerable to the virus attack.

And then here it comes the sources of India’s air pollution which has to be mentioned and reduced like indoor cookstoves, road traffic – including the ubiquitous auto-rickshaws that use a toxic mix of kerosene and diesel – industrial plants that burn fossil fuels and open burning of waste.

Also, Stubble burning is intentionally setting fire to the straw stubble that remains after grains, like paddy, wheat, etc, have been harvested. The practice was widespread until the 1990s when governments increasingly restricted their use. Harmful effects of stubble burning loss of nutrients, pollution from smoke, damage to electrical and electronic equipment from floating threads of conducting waste.

The main adverse effects of crop residue burning include the emission of greenhouse gases (GHGs) that contribute to global warming, increased levels of particulate matter (PM), and smog that cause health hazards, loss of biodiversity of agricultural lands, and the deterioration of soil fertility.

Fossil fuel burning is one of the major anthropogenic sources of air pollution all over the world. A study modeled that emissions from fossil fuel combustion are one of the major causes of air pollution, which contributes to 65% of additional mortality due to the exposure. Given that renewable energy is cleaner than fossil fuel burning, a transition to renewable energy is essential to mitigate the climate crisis.    

There are many small, but critical sources of air pollution in our homes and neighborhoods. Such sources — vehicles, construction equipment, lawn mowers, dry cleaners, backyard fires, and auto-body shops — are located where we live and work. Total emissions from these smaller but widespread sources are significantly greater than all the industrial sources in the state combined. 

On days when high particle levels are expected, take these steps to reduce air pollution:

  1. Reduce the number of trips you take in your car
  2. Reduce or eliminate fireplace and wood stove use
  3. Avoid burning leaves, trash, and other materials
  4. Avoid using gas-powered lawn and garden

To spread the awareness of this critical condition, the youths, leaders, activists, educational organizations, foundations, and government leaders should step forward and take part actively to influence more and more people and let them know about such facts through -door to door awareness programmes, social media, radio and TV advertisement, and also by many other various ways.

To ensure a healthy environment for our present and the upcoming future of the planet, we should have to be alert and follow the instructions and protocols for Air Pollution and COVID-19.

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