Covid-19 and air pollution – fine dust could be a silent helper of the virus

Chris Müller Chris Müller
Fine dust and Covid-19

Air pollution could be a determining factor in the severity of the corona

The corona virus could show us in a dramatic way what we have failed to eradicate for years: air pollution. Italian scientists see a link between the severity of Covid-19 diseases and the level of air pollution. The reason: heavily pre-loaded lungs and the assumption that the virus uses particulate matter as a “means of transport”, which would mean more potential sources of infection in regions such as the Po Valley. ATMOS Aerosol Research provides similar approaches here and tries to investigate the connection in more detail.

A team of Italian scientists around SIMA (Società Italiana Medicina Ambientale) and renowned universities in Northern Italy published a “Position Paper” to prove the connection between high particulate matter pollution and the rapid spread of the coronavirus Covid-19 in the Po Valley.

Find the paper here

As a general rule, it should be noted that a position paper is an article that has not been subject to peer review. That means it has been published without other scientists having read it and declared suitable for publication. It therefore consists of hypotheses and opinions. The approaches are nevertheless remarkable.

Do virus epidemics also spread through air pollution?

The investigations of ATMOS Aerosol Research via satellites and ground measuring stations have been following the connection between increased air pollution and the spread of lung diseases or diseases caused by air pollution (such as strokes or heart attacks).

The team in Italy claims to have found parallels between air pollution in northern Italy and the accumulation of coronavirus infections. The team evaluated particulate matter (PM10) readings from monitoring stations of the environmental protection agency and compared them with confirmed Covid-19 cases throughout Italy. Result of this investigation: Northern Italy, or more precisely the Po Valley, had a significantly higher proportion of cases in the comparison period than the rest of Italy. (Incubation periods were taken into account).

There is no doubt that the high population density, number of inhabitants, high level of trade and tourism in this area of Italy – a reinforcing factor, but a direct comparison with Rome shows a strong, abnormal variation in contagions.

Where does this deviation come from and what can we derive from it?

On the one hand, it must be assumed that the population groups living there already exhibit greater fragility and pathology of the respiratory and cardiovascular system due to the regular exceedance of the particulate matter limits. In other words, they belong to the high-risk group, so to speak. Lombardy is the Italian region that suffers most from air pollution.

Secondly, the Italian team claims that particulate matter is an “effective vector for the transport, spread and proliferation of viral infections”. They assume that viruses can adhere to smog particles and especially fine dust particles and thus remain in the air for several days and can travel over longer distances.

As early as 2018, a team in Spain was able to prove that viruses, just like bacteria, can adhere to dust particles, especially desert sand or organic particles from sea haze, and can be carried up to tropospheric levels.

Find the study here

Data on lung diseases

The extent to which coronaviruses are present in the air and whether this could lead to transmission cannot be clearly answered at present. However, it is clear that billions of viruses are in the atmosphere at any given time and can occur anywhere in the world, both through rain (wet deposition) and on clear days (dry deposition).

It can also be observed that in countries with high levels of air pollution and significantly higher cases of lung cancer and COPD (such as the Netherlands or Belgium), the number of severe covid-19s is several times higher than in the rest of Europe.

Air Pollution

What does this mean for ATMOS Aerosol Research?

The technology of ATMOS Aerosol Research allows to access satellite data of the last 20 years and thus to derive trends about the dispersion of particles in the air for future events.

ATMOS Aerosol Research can support research to find out what influence environmental pollution has on the spread of infections and specifically help in countries with high particulate matter pollution to identify and protect the high-risk group.

We are now looking for funding and supporters to advance research here. People affected by cystic fibrosis also belong to the high-risk groups. If you would like to support direct help for affected families, donate here.