Air pollution linked to 15% of COVID-19 deaths

27th October 2020

Web pollution istock 1153026402

Related Topics

Related tags

  • Health ,
  • Fossil fuels ,
  • Global ,
  • Air


Paul Stepan

Approximately 15% of deaths worldwide from COVID-19 could be attributed to long-term exposure to air pollution, an international team of scientists has found.

In a paper published today, the researchers estimate that this figure could be as high as 27% in East Asia, while the proportion of coronavirus deaths linked to air pollution in Europe and North America is around 19% and 17% respectively.

This is due to the underlying health issues brought on by air pollution, which are the same conditions known to increase the likelihood of death from COVID-19.

The researchers said that their estimates do not demonstrate a “direct cause-effect relationship“, but highlight the fraction of deaths that could be avoided if the population were exposed to less air pollution and emissions.

“If both long-term exposure to air pollution and infection with the COVID-19 virus come together then we have an additive adverse effect on health, particularly with respect to the heart and blood vessels, which leads to greater vulnerability and less resilience to COVID-19,“ explained professor Thomas M√ºnzel, from the University Medical Center Mainz.

The study, published in the scientific journal Cardiovascular Research, combined epidemiological data from separate US and Chinese studies, and found a very diverse picture for individual countries.

For example, anthropogenic air pollution is linked to 29% of coronavirus deaths in the Czech Republic, 27% in China, 26% in Germany. The proportion is lower in Italy, on 15%, and the UK, on 14%, while single figures are estimated for Australia and New Zealand, on 3% and 1% respectively.

There have been more than 44,000 coronavirus deaths in the UK, which means that about 6,000 could have been avoided if the air were clean.

“Our results suggest the potential for substantial benefits from reducing air pollution exposure, even at relatively low PM2.5 levels,“ the paper states.

“A lesson from our environmental perspective of the COVID-19 pandemic is that the quest for effective policies to reduce anthropogenic emissions, which cause both air pollution and climate change, needs to be accelerated.“

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

How much is too much?

While there is no silver bullet for tackling climate change and social injustice, there is one controversial solution: the abolition of the super-rich. Chris Seekings explains more

4th April 2024

Read more

Alex Veitch from the British Chambers of Commerce and IEMA’s Ben Goodwin discuss with Chris Seekings how to unlock the potential of UK businesses

4th April 2024

Read more

Five of the latest books on the environment and sustainability

3rd April 2024

Read more

The UK’s major cities lag well behind their European counterparts in terms of public transport use. Linking development to transport routes might be the answer, argues Huw Morris

3rd April 2024

Read more

Ben Goodwin reflects on policy, practice and advocacy over the past year

2nd April 2024

Read more

A hangover from EU legislation, requirements on the need for consideration of nutrient neutrality for developments on many protected sites in England were nearly removed from the planning system in 2023.

2nd April 2024

Read more

It’s well recognised that the public sector has the opportunity to work towards a national net-zero landscape that goes well beyond improving on its own performance; it can also influence through procurement and can direct through policy.

19th March 2024

Read more

The UK government’s carbon capture, usage and storage (CCUS) strategy is based on optimistic techno-economic assumptions that are now outdated, Carbon Tracker has warned.

13th March 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