Higher levels of nitrogen dioxide pollutants in the air maybe associated with an increased number of deaths from COVID-19, according to astudy.
The research, published in the journal Science of the TotalEnvironment, combined satellite data on air pollution and air currents withconfirmed deaths related to COVID-19.
It revealed that regions with permanently high levels ofpollution have significantly more deaths than other regions, according to theresearchers at Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU) in Germany.
Nitrogen dioxide is an air pollutant that damages the humanrespiratory tract, the researchers said.
For many years it has been known to cause many types ofrespiratory and cardiovascular diseases in humans, they said.
"Since the novel coronavirus also affects therespiratory tract, it is reasonable to assume that there might be a correlationbetween air pollution and the number of deaths from Covid-19," said YaronOgen from MLU.
The researchers combined three sets of data, including thelevels of regional nitrogen dioxide pollution measured by the European SpaceAgency's (ESA) Sentinel 5P satellite, which continuously monitors air pollutionon the Earth.
Based on this data, he produced a global overview forregions with high and prolonged amounts of nitrogen dioxide pollution.
"I looked at the values for January and February ofthis year, before the corona outbreaks in Europe began," explained Ogen.
He combined this data with data from the US weather agencyNOAA on vertical air flows. He explained that if air is in motion, thepollutants near the ground are also more disseminated.
However, if the air tends to stay near the ground, this willalso apply to the pollutants in the air, which are then more likely be inhaledby humans in greater amounts and thus lead to health problems, Ogen said.
Using this data, the researcher was able to identifyhotspots around the world with high levels of air pollution and simultaneouslylow levels of air movement.
He then compared these with the data on deaths related toCovid-19, specifically analysing the data from Italy, France, Spain andGermany.
He found that the regions with a high number of deaths alsohad particularly high levels of nitrogen dioxide and a particularly low amountof vertical air exchange.
"When we look at Northern Italy, the area aroundMadrid, and Hubei Provence in China, for example, they all have something incommon: they are surrounded by mountains. This makes it even more likely thatthe air in these regions is stable and pollution levels are higher," Ogensaid.
The advantage of the analysis, he noted, is that it is basedon individual regions and does not only compare countries.
"Even though we can obtain a country's average valuefor air pollution, this figure could vary greatly from region to region andtherefore not be a reliable indicator," said Ogen.
The geoscientist suspects that this persistent air pollutionin the affected regions could have led to overall poorer health in the peopleliving there, making them particularly susceptible to the virus.
"However, my research on the topic is only an initialindication that there might be a correlation between the level of airpollution, air movement and the severity of the course of the coronaoutbreaks," said Ogen.