Air pollution exposure linked to higher COVID-19 risk

29th July 2020

Web child pollution istock 852229954 0

Related Topics

Related tags

  • Health ,
  • Global ,
  • Air ,
  • Society


Christopher Richardson

A recent study in the Netherlands has provided further evidence to suggest that exposure to higher levels of air pollution increases the risk of death from COVID-19.

After studying data for 355 Dutch municipalities, the researchers found that an increase of just one microgram per cubic meter of fine particulate air pollution matter was linked with an increase of up to 15 COVID-19 cases, four hospital admissions and three deaths.

A single-unit increase in this fine particulate matter, also known as PM2.5, has previously been linked with an 8% rise in the coronavirus death rate in the US, and the latest study found that the figure for the Netherlands could be up to 16.6%

Researchers professor Matt Cole and assistant professor Ceren Ozgen from the University of Birmingham, and professor Eric Strobl from the University of Bern, said they had uncovered a clear correlation between air pollution and cases of COVID-19.

“The relationship we found between pollution and COVID-19 exists even after controlling for other contributing factors,“ they wrote for the World Economic Forum.

“If concentrations in the most polluted municipality fell to the level of the least polluted, our results suggest this would lead to 82 fewer disease cases, 24 fewer hospital admissions and 19 fewer deaths, purely as a result of the change in pollution.“

Unusually, the study found that the hotspots for coronavirus transmission in the Netherlands are in relatively rural south-eastern regions where there are fewer people living close together.

These areas hold carnival celebrations which attract thousands of people to street parties and parades, and 2020 was no exception, which could partially explain the findings.

However, the researchers highlighted how the south-eastern provinces of North Brabant and Limburg also house over 63% of the country's 12 million pigs and 42% of its 101 million chickens.

Intensive livestock production produces large amounts of ammonia, which often form a significant proportion of fine particulate matter in air pollution. Concentrations of this are at their highest in air samples from the south-east of the Netherlands.

“The correlation we found between exposure to air pollution and COVID-19 is not simply a result of disease cases being clustered in large cities where pollution may be higher,“ the researchers wrote.

“Within regions, pollution levels and COVID-19 cases can vary considerably from place to place, making it hard to estimate the precise relationship between the two.

“Being able to study this link among individual people would allow us to more precisely eliminate the influence of age and health conditions. But until this kind of data is available, the evidence of a relationship between pollution and COVID-19 can never be conclusive.“

Image credit: iStock


Subscribe to IEMA's newsletters to receive timely articles, expert opinions, event announcements, and much more, directly in your inbox.

Transform articles

IEMA reviews political party manifestos

Ahead of the UK general election next month, IEMA has analysed the Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat, and Green Party manifestos in relation to the sustainability agenda.

19th June 2024

Read more

Disinformation about the impossibility of averting the climate crisis is part of an alarming turn in denialist tactics, writes David Burrows

6th June 2024

Read more

Rivers and waterways across England and Wales are increasingly polluted by sewage spills. What is causing the crisis and what is being done to tackle it? Huw Morris reports

31st May 2024

Read more

IEMA submits response to the Future Homes Standard consultation

31st May 2024

Read more

In January, the Welsh government consulted on a proposed white paper, 'Securing a Sustainable Future: Environmental Principles, Governance and Biodiversity Targets for a Greener Wales'.

31st May 2024

Read more

Gillian Gibson calls for urgent action to avoid environmental tipping points

20th May 2024

Read more

Media enquires

Looking for an expert to speak at an event or comment on an item in the news?

Find an expert

IEMA Cookie Notice

Clicking the ‘Accept all’ button means you are accepting analytics and third-party cookies. Our website uses necessary cookies which are required in order to make our website work. In addition to these, we use analytics and third-party cookies to optimise site functionality and give you the best possible experience. To control which cookies are set, click ‘Settings’. To learn more about cookies, how we use them on our website and how to change your cookie settings please view our cookie policy.

Manage cookie settings

Our use of cookies

You can learn more detailed information in our cookie policy.

Some cookies are essential, but non-essential cookies help us to improve the experience on our site by providing insights into how the site is being used. To maintain privacy management, this relies on cookie identifiers. Resetting or deleting your browser cookies will reset these preferences.

Essential cookies

These are cookies that are required for the operation of our website. They include, for example, cookies that enable you to log into secure areas of our website.

Analytics cookies

These cookies allow us to recognise and count the number of visitors to our website and to see how visitors move around our website when they are using it. This helps us to improve the way our website works.

Advertising cookies

These cookies allow us to tailor advertising to you based on your interests. If you do not accept these cookies, you will still see adverts, but these will be more generic.

Save and close