Study Shows Connection Between Air Pollution and Increased Risk for COVID Infection and Death in CA

California is home to some of the highest concentrations of air pollution in the nation. A study released in August, 2022, by the Public Health Institute’s Tracking California program reveals that air pollution increases the risk of COVID-19 infection and death. The study, Association Between Long-Term Exposure to Particulate Air Pollution with SARS-CoV-2 Infections and COVID-19 deaths in California, U.S.A, was conducted in partnership with researchers from the University of California, San Francisco. It’s set to be published in the October, 2022, edition of Environmental Advances.

Previous studies have reported a connection between air pollution and COVID-19 morbidity and mortality and have focused their exposure assessment on areas larger than local neighborhoods. This is the first study of its kind for California that looks at neighborhood-level air pollution data and examines over 3 million SARS-CoV-2 infections and about 50,000 COVID-19 deaths in California from February 2020 to February 2021 to evaluate the risks associated with long-term levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5). High levels of the air pollutant PM2.5 can negatively impact our health and can cause asthma, lung cancer and other respiratory diseases. The study also focuses on individual-level data, such as age and gender.

When compared to those living in neighborhoods with the lowest PM2.5 exposure, researchers found that individuals living in neighborhoods with the highest long-term PM2.5 exposure were:

  • At 20% higher risk of SARS-CoV-2 infections
  • At 51% higher risk of COVID-19 mortality
  • More likely to be Hispanic and from low-income communities

Areas with the greatest concentration of PM2.5 were California’s San Joaquin Valley and South Coast air basins. Researchers estimate that 9% or approximately 4,250 COVID-19 deaths during the study period could have been prevented if the entire state met the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for PM2.5. The standards include the maximum allowable levels for the fine particulate matter analyzed in this study, a pollutant which is of high public health concern, as it can be inhaled deeply into the lungs.

To see the study’s abstract, click here. The full study is here. For a program overview, click here.