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How serious is air pollution in worsening the effects and spread of COVID-19?

By Ashley Battiata, VI Form

How serious is air pollution in worsening the effects and spread of COVID-19?

Student Note: For the final two weeks of Remote Learning in Advanced Environmental Science, I chose to learn more about COVID-19. The prompt was broad; therefore, I specifically focused on how air pollution and COVID-19 are related. For example, does air pollution spread COVID-19 faster, and does it worsen the effects of the pandemic? Or do these two environmental problems not impact each other at all? While researching, I expanded into another topic that most people weren’t talking about: how both air pollution and COVID-19 are affecting a specific demographic.  

A very specific type of air pollution called fine particulate matter or (PM2.5)  is associated with an increased risk of COVID-19 in the United States. PM2.5 is associated with burning things, such as coal in a power plant or gasoline in one’s car. It is dangerous because of how microscopic the matter is, specifically 2.5 micrometers in diameter, which gets into the lungs and bloodstream and causes damage to our health.The smaller the matter is in diameter, the easier it is to penetrate into the lungs and bloodstream and to get past airways designed to cough out irritants. This leads to future problems such as asthma, heart attacks, and other chronic diseases.  According to a Harvard study, an increase of only “1 μg/m3 in PM2.5 is associated with a 15% increase in the COVID-19 mortality rate,” which proves that there is a relationship between exposure to air pollution and COVID-19 mortality rates. 

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