About 15% of deaths worldwide from COVID-19 may be linked to long-term exposure to air pollution, according to a latest study.
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.
The study, published in the journal Cardiovascular Research, is the first to estimate the proportion of deaths from the coronavirus that could be attributed to the exacerbating effects of air pollution for every country in the world.
The team noted that these proportions are an estimate of the fraction of COVID-19 deaths that could be avoided if the population was exposed to lower counterfactual air pollution levels without fossil fuel-related and other anthropogenic, caused by humans -- emissions.
However, the estimation does not reflect a direct cause-effect relationship between air pollution and COVID-19 deaths. Rather, it indicates the fact that in the absence of pollution, people with co-morbidities could have avoided the severity caused by the viral infection.
For their estimation, the researchers used epidemiological data available from previous studies on US and China and the SARS outbreak of 2003. They also included additional data from Italy. With this data set, the researchers compared another data set that comprises global exposure to air pollution caused by particulate matter 2.5 (particles having diameter of 2.5 microns).
The PM 2.5 air pollution dataset was from the satellite data of global exposure to PM 2.5, information of ground based networks for monitoring pollution. They then developed a model to estimate the fraction of COVID-19 deaths that could be attributed to long term exposure to PM2.5. The epidemiological data was collected till June.
Prof Jos Lelieveld of Max Planck Institute of Chemistry, Mainz, Germany, and a corresponding author of the study said, “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. 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%, meaning that more than 6,100 deaths could be attributed to air pollution. In the USA, more than 220,000 COVID deaths with a fraction of 18% yields about 40,000 deaths attributable to air pollution.”