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COVID-19 & Air Pollution

“I don’t believe I have seen the sky so clearly — lit with stars as far as the eye could see — since I was in South Africa many years ago,” San Marcos, Calif., resident Epifania Shawls recalls after the first week of quarantine began in the area. “Without the planes, trains, and automobiles, factories, or even cigarette smoke, there was no smog the waters are blue again. It looked to me like a lot of California has been through an environmental makeover.”

Shawls’ excitement echoes that of Americans across the nation who have seen the quick transformation in air quality since the onset of the COVID-19 epidemic. With various industries, travel networks and corporations at a standstill, a drastic drop in carbon emissions occurred.

Emissions have fallen, according to research produced by bodies including the Queen Mary University of London, at least for now in countries where public health measures, including quarantines, have kept personal vehicles off the road and public transport to a bare minimum.

One estimation places emissions from public transportation with contributing to 72 percent of pollution and 11 percent of the transport sector’s greenhouse gas emissions. In New York, the restriction has led to a 50 percent drop in levels of pollution from this same time last year.

“There are satellite images showing the disappearance of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) emissions from various areas of the world, which should give evidence to the naysayers that don’t believe in the negative impact we have on our environment,” Shawls told The Informer. “We cannot afford to exchange our good health for greed or reckless innovation.”

Shawls estimation has already been realized in as global medical communities also document the links between air pollution levels in areas with significantly higher rates of COVID-19 deaths.

Research from the Forum of International Respiratory Societies in two review papers, published in the journal Chest found that ultrafine particles pass through the [lungs], are readily picked up by cells, and carried via the bloodstream to expose virtually all cells in the body and Air pollution may be damaging every organ and virtually every cell in the human body.

“Air pollution may be associated with symptoms immediately upon exposure, such as coughing, tearing, difficulty breathing, and angina. It may also be associated with long-term harm that is more subtle,” the report said. “People are usually unaware of how long-term exposure affects their health or worsens their medical problems over time. Polluted air gains access to the body through the respiratory tract but has systemic effects that can damage other organs.”

In the case of COVID-19, some researchers believe the increase in particle pollution levels before the epidemic has contributed to a 15 percent increase in death rates.

“It is well known that pollution impairs the first line of defense of upper airways, namely cilia, thus a subject living in an area with high levels of pollutant is more prone to develop chronic respiratory conditions and [is more vulnerable] to any infective agent,” the study revealed.

It also suggested that “dirty air” significantly increased the likelihood that people in polluted areas die from the coronavirus than those living in cleaner areas.

“This information can help us prepare by encouraging populations [with high pollution exposure] to take extra precautions and allocate extra resources to reduce the risk of poor outcomes from COVID-19,” Xiao Wu, one of the research contributors, writes. “It is likely that COVID-19 will be a part of our lives for quite a long time, despite our hope for a vaccine or treatment. In light of this, we should consider additional measures to protect ourselves from pollution exposure to reduce the COVID-19 death toll.”

Read full Chest research journal article here: https://journal.chestnet.org/article/S0012-3692(18)32723-5/pdf.

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