Studies Suggest Air Pollution Increases Threat of Coronavirus Airborne Transmission

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By: Shaina Smith, Community Organizing Intern
The reality of environmental inequality is that industry polluters target low-wealth and minority communities disproportionately. A 2018 study found that Black and Latino people are typically exposed to 56% and 63% more air pollution than is caused by their consumption, but that white people are exposed to 17% less than they cause.
This exposure weakens the immune system over time, and people with preexisting respiratory or cardiovascular diseases are more likely to have a severe case of coronavirus.
A recent Harvard study found that higher levels of pollution particles known as PM 2.5 are linked to higher coronavirus death rates. An increase of just one microgram per cubic meter results in a 10% increase in coronavirus cases, and 15% increases in death.  A separate study of air quality found overlap between areas of high coronavirus mortality rate with high levels of air pollution. The EPA standard for PM 2.5 is 12 micrograms per cubic meter annual average, and the WHO standard is 10. However, some places in New York have annual PM levels above either standard, which may have contributed to the coronavirus hotspot earlier in the year. 
A preliminary study in Italy detected Sars-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) on PM 10, which is the same thing as PM 2.5, but slightly larger. This means that air pollution is not only a direct pathway to transmission of coronavirus, but can even travel further in the air, increasing the risk for anyone living in areas of high contamination. 
CDC data shows Black and Latino people are three times as likely to become infected with coronavirus than white people, and twice as likely to die.
These communities on the frontlines of pollution were already facing a health crisis, the coronavirus pandemic makes it more deadly.
To control a second wave the government needs to seriously consider the findings of these recent studies and impose harsher penalties and regulations on industrial polluters. In doing so this means taking on the root cause of why Black and Brown people suffer the most from this pandemic: systemic racism embedded in environmental, economic, and political aspects of life. 
Photo by: Jason Wambsgans / Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images

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