Corona and air pollution: what influence does nitrogen dioxide have on the course of the disease?

High levels of nitrogen dioxide in the air could be associated with high deaths from Covid-19 diseases. A new study by the Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU) provides concrete figures for this assumption for the first time. The work combines satellite data on air pollution and air flows with confirmed deaths related to Covid-19. It shows: Regions with a permanently high pollution level have significantly more deaths than other regions. The results were published in the journal Science of the Total Environment.

Nitrogen dioxide is an air pollutant that damages human respiratory tract. It has been known for many years that it can promote numerous respiratory diseases or cardiovascular problems in humans. “Since the novel coronavirus also affects the airways, it is reasonable to assume that there could be a connection between air pollution and death rates in Covid-19,” says Dr. Yaron Ogen from the MLU Institute for Geosciences and Geography. So far, however, there have been no reliable figures for this.

In his new study, the geoscientist combined three data sets with one another: The measurements of regional pollution with nitrogen dioxide come from the Sentinel 5P satellite of the European Space Agency, which continuously monitors the air pollution of the earth. Using this data, he created a global overview for regions with a high and long-lasting nitrogen dioxide pollution.

He then compared this to the deaths associated with Covid-19. He specifically analyzed the information from Italy, France, Spain and Germany. It turned out that the regions in particular have a high death rate, in which both the nitrogen dioxide pollution is particularly high and the vertical air exchange is particularly low.

The advantage of his analysis is that it starts at the level of individual regions and does not only compare countries with each other. For a country, there could be an average value for air pollution, but this could vary greatly from region to region and is therefore not a reliable indicator, says Ogen.

The geoscientist suspects that this prolonged air pollution in the affected regions could have resulted in poorer human health overall and that they are therefore particularly susceptible to the virus.