At least 150 Covid-19 deaths in Ireland are attributable to long-term exposure to air pollution, according to a new study.
About 15 per cent of all virus deaths globally, and 19 per cent in Europe, are linked in the modelling study to air pollution resulting from human activity.
In Ireland, it is estimated that 8 per cent of Covid-19 deaths are linked to air pollution, of which three-quarters is pollution caused by fossil fuels.
This is the proportion of virus deaths that could be avoided if Irish people were exposed to lower air pollution levels, according to the mostly German team of researchers.
While not proposing a direct cause and effect relationship between air pollution and Covid-19, they say air pollution may aggravate other health conditions and lead to “fatal health outcomes” of the virus infection.
When people inhale polluted air, small particles migrate from the lungs to the blood vessels, causing inflammation, according to Prof Thomas Münzel of Mainz University. This causes damage to the inner lining of arteries, leading to their narrowing and stiffening. Covid-19 causes similar damage.
“If both long-term exposure to air pollution and infection with the Covid-19 virus come together then we have an additive adverse effect on health, particularly with respect to the heart and blood vessels, which leads to greater vulnerability and less resilience to Covid-19,” Prof Münzel said.
“If you already have heart disease, then air pollution and coronavirus infection will cause trouble that can lead to heart attacks, heart failure and stroke.”
Referring to previous work that suggests fine particulates in air pollution may prolong the life of infectious viruses, the authors suggest particulate matter plays a role in “super-spreading” events by favouring transmission of the virus.
According to the study, published in Cardiovascular Research journal, the contribution of air pollution to Covid-19 deaths varies from 29 per cent in the Czech Republic and 27 per cent in China to 1 per cent in New Zealand.
The authors say their work shows the question for effective policies to reduce man-made emissions needs to be accelerated. “The pandemic ends with the vaccination of the population or with herd immunity through extensive infection of the population. However, there are no vaccines against poor air quality and climate change. The remedy is to mitigate emissions.”