As the number of coronavirus cases continues to soar across the United States, a newly published Harvard study shows that people who live in areas with high levels of pollution, such as Atlanta, New York City, and other metropolitan areas, are 15% more likely to die from a COVID-19 infection than people who live in places with cleaner air.
For the study, researchers from Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health looked at fine particulate matter that is 2.5 microns or less in size – about 30 times smaller than the width of a hair. This particulate matter is called PM2.5 and becomes airborne through emissions from power plants, motor vehicles, and industrial plants as well as burning wood, wildfires, and numerous other sources.
Long-term exposures to PM2.5, which can also be caused by smoking, vaping, cooking, and other personal and household activities, promote the same major diseases that make people more vulnerable to severe COVID-19 infection and death. For instance, chronic lung disease, asthma, and serious heart conditions.
After adjusting for socioeconomic, demographic, weather, behavioral, and health-care-related factors, the researchers found “statistically significant evidence” that exposure to higher levels of PM2.5 leads to higher coronavirus deaths.
The study found an increase of just one microgram per cubic meter in long-term average PM2.5 exposure was associated with an increase of 15% in the COVID-19 death rate.
Counties with higher pollution levels “will be the ones that have higher numbers of hospitalizations, higher numbers of deaths and where many of the resources should be concentrated,” senior study author Francesca Dominici told the New York Times.
The researchers noted that “The study results underscore the importance of continuing to enforce existing air pollution regulations to protect human health both during and after the COVID-19 crisis.”
The troubling association between COVID-19 death rates and air pollution means that the Trump administration should be doing everything in its power to maintain the air standards already in place or improve them, as doing so would certainly save lives now and in the future.
According to the study’s researchers, PM2.5 pollution has been estimated to cause 5.5 million premature deaths a year.
Unfortunately, the Trump administration is doing the opposite. Under Donald Trump’s direction, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is aggressively lowering air pollution standards by weakening regulations that keep big polluters in check.
As the nation’s attention is focused on fighting the COVID-19 pandemic and getting the economy back on track, the Trump administration is racing to gut environmental protections and compliance requirements for the oil and gas industry. Critics of the rollbacks say they are a free pass to poison the nation’s air quality for profit.