Air Pollution: Necessary Evil for the COVID-19 Pandemic?

3 min readMay 25, 2020

Recent studies and news have reported a link between coronavirus (COVID-19) health impacts and air pollution. Air pollution, according to the World Health Organisation, accounts for an estimated 4.2 million premature deaths globally. Air Pollutants with high health impacts include particulate matter (PM): PM10 and PM2.5, ozone (O3), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and sulphur dioxide (SO2). High air pollution levels can cause immediate health problems such as intensified cardiovascular and respiratory illness, increased exertion to the heart and lungs to supply the body with oxygen, and damaged cells in the respiratory system. Long term exposure can have permanent health conditions such as loss of lung capacity and decreased lung function, heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer and shortened life span. The most susceptible to these air pollution induced illnesses are individuals with underlining cardiovascular or pulmonary conditions, elderly persons, pregnant women, children under 14 and outdoor workers.

From the perception of Public Health, it is safe to say that the COVID-19 pandemic and air pollution are closely interwoven. This article is aimed at reviewing several reports and studies linking air pollution and the coronavirus.

A new research from Harvard University reports that a single microgram per cubic meter increase in the common air pollutant PM2.5 can increase the death rate of COVID-19 by 15%. The study evaluated air pollution and COVID-19 deaths in 3,000 United States counties. Similar to the health effects from long term exposure to air pollution, the study observed that an individual whose respiratory systems have been weakened by years of exposure to air pollution, could be left most vulnerable to the COVID-19 virus.

The report also identified a trend, where high density areas with poor air quality are more vulnerable to coronavirus, furthermore persons of low socioeconomic status may face worse COVID-19 outcomes.

The observed trend is also supported by the report “Role of the chronic air pollution levels in the Covid-19 outbreak risk in Italy”. The report reveals that COVID-19 outbreak in Italy is exhibiting a clear regional trend and shows long term air quality data correlation with COVID-19 in the Italian provinces.

A similar report investigates the Coronavirus lethality and the atmospheric pollution in Northern Italy. The report showed that people…


Public Health/Environmental Practitioner