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WASHINGTON: Long-term exposure to air pollution has been linked to an increased risk of dying from COVID-19 and, for the first time, a study has estimated 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 study, published in Cardiovascular Research, estimated that about 15% of deaths worldwide from COVID-19 could be attributed to long-term exposure to air pollution.
In Europe the proportion was about 19%, in North America it was 17%, and in East Asia about 27%.
In their CVR paper, the researchers write that these proportions are an estimate of “the fraction of COVID-19 deaths that could be avoided if the population were exposed to lower counterfactual air pollution levels without fossil fuel-related and other anthropogenic [caused by humans] emissions”.
They add that this “attributable fraction does not imply a direct cause-effect relationship between air pollution and COVID-19 mortality (although it is possible).
Instead, it refers to relationships between two, direct and indirect, i.e. by aggravating co-morbidities [other health conditions] that could lead to fatal health outcomes of the virus infection”.
The research team includes Professor Jos Lelieveld, of the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, Mainz, Germany, and the Cyprus Institute Nicosia, Cyprus, Professor Thomas Munzel, from the University Medical Center of the Johannes Gutenberg University, Mainz, and the German Center for Cardiovascular Research, Mainz, and Dr Andrea Pozzer, from the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry.
The researchers used epidemiological data from previous US and Chinese studies of air pollution and COVID-19 and the SARS outbreak in 2003, supported by additional data from Italy.
They combined this with satellite data showing global exposure to polluting fine particles known as ‘particulate matter’ that are less than or equal to 2.5 microns in diameter (known as PM2.5), information on atmospheric conditions and ground-based pollution monitoring networks, to create a model to calculate the fraction of coronavirus deaths that could be attributable to long-term exposure to PM2.5.
The results are based on epidemiological data collected up the third week in June 2020 and the researchers say a comprehensive evaluation will need to follow after the pandemic has subsided.
Estimates for individual countries show, for example, that air pollution contributed to 29% of coronavirus deaths in the Czech Republic, 27% in China, 26% in Germany, 22% in Switzerland, 21% in Belgium, 19% in The Netherlands, 18% in France, 16% in Sweden, 15% in Italy, 14% in the UK, 12% in Brazil, 11% in Portugal, 8% in the Republic of Ireland, 6% in Israel, 3% in Australia and just 1% in New Zealand.
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.” (ANI)