Research Shows Disproportionate Rate of Coronavirus Deaths in Polluted Areas

COVID-19 can be made more serious by a specific type of industrial emission called hazardous air pollutants, or HAPs, according to peer-reviewed research by ProPublica and researchers at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, published on September 11, 2020 in Environmental Research Letters. Their focus on HAPs builds upon earlier studies linking poor air quality to COVID-19 mortality, which focused solely on criteria pollutants. This study examined the relationship between HAP exposure and COVID-19 mortality, while controlling for socioeconomic status, population health indicators, and exposure to PM2.5 and ozone. The researchers conclude, “We find that an increase in the respiratory hazard index is associated with a 9% increase in COVID-19 mortality. Although differing in magnitude, this association holds for individual HAPs acetaldehyde, and diesel PM [particulate matter]. These findings help us to understand variation in US-based COVID-19 mortality rates, reinforce existing research linking air pollution to mortality, and emphasize the importance of regulatory efforts to limit air pollution exposure risk.”