Does Exposure to Air Pollution Increase Covid-19 Mortality Rates?
The repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic are widespread, but some of them are addressable immediately. Research from both the United States and China connects air pollution with the severity of Covid-19 cases. In the U.S., exposure to air pollutants often varies by socioeconomic status and studies suggest that this differential exposure leads to disparities in the health of higher-income communities versus those living in low-income areas. In many urban and low-income communities transportation is the leading cause of poor air quality. Because of this, businesses and municipalities should look to renewable natural gas (RNG) as an alternative fuel to help protect vulnerable populations from air pollutants and a potentially higher risk of death from COVID-19.
Harvard University and Researchers In China Connect Air Pollution to COVID-19
A cross-sectional study from Harvard examined whether long-term exposure to the air pollutant PM2.5 is associated with increased mortality rates in the United States. Researchers collected data on COVID-19 deaths from 3,080 counties across the country, representing 98 percent of the population. A second study explored a relationship between the novel coronavirus infection and air pollutants in China. Researchers used a cross a section of China where 70 percent of the country’s coronavirus cases were identified. At the time, China had 79,968 confirmed cases. Because of the extremely high number of coronavirus cases in Wuhan compared to other cities, Wuhan was removed from the study.
Both studies concluded that there was a correlation between certain air pollutants and COVID -19 infection with the Harvard study reporting that “a small increase in long-term exposure to PM2.5 leads to a large increase in the COVID-19 death rate.”
Air Pollution Has a Greater Impact on Minority Communities in the United States
According to the American Lung Association, four out of every 10 Americans live in areas where the air is unhealthy to breathe. That’s 134 million Americans. This is particularly true of minority communities. The EPA states that 71 percent of African Americans live in counties that violate federal air pollution standards. There are serious consequences of this reality: twice as many African American children are hospitalized each year and four times as many die than Caucasian children. 
The Harvard paper suggests that “just a slight increase in long-term pollution exposure could have serious coronavirus-related consequences.” And the report from China suggests, “ambient air pollutants are risk factors for respiratory infection by carrying microorganisms to make pathogens more invasive to humans and affecting body’s immunity to make people more susceptible to pathogens.”
Transportation Is the #1 Cause of Air Pollution in Urban Environments
While all fossil fuel-burning vehicles emit pollutants, heavy-duty trucks and buses are particularly damaging to the environment. Right now, these vehicles are the primary sources of harmful urban emissions. Seventy-four percent of the trucks on the road are not even certified to the EPA’s latest NOx standard contributing to a toxic environment that affects over 134 million Americans.
Renewable Natural Gas Could Improve the Outcome for Vulnerable Populations
There is a sustainable alternative to fossil fuels, renewable natural gas. RNG is ninety percent cleaner than the cleanest diesel engine. It’s captured from agricultural, food, landfill, and wastewater sources and it’s carbon-neutral/carbon negative.
Replacing just one heavy-duty vehicle with climate-friendly and cost-effective RNG is the equivalent of removing 119 cars off the road. And, unlike electrification and other futuristic concepts, it is readily available right now to improve air quality and provide health benefits to communities across the country.
American Natural Gas (ANG) is on a mission to expand a network of natural gas stations across the country. Founded in 2011 and located in Saratoga Springs, NY, ANG is a veteran in the transportation industry. Visit the ANG website to learn more about the company.