A new nationwide study suggests that people living in neighborhoods with higher levels of fine particulate air pollution are more likely to die from COVID-19 infection than patients who live in areas with cleaner air.
The Harvard study compares county-level COVID-19 deaths (as of April 4) with each county’s long-term average concentrations of pollution particles smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, also known as PM2.5 or “fine particulate” pollution. The authors found that counties with just one more microgram per cubic meter in their average fine particulate levels had, on average, a fifteen percent higher mortality rate from COVID-19.
The study results also underscore the importance of addressing the historical injustices that have put some Californians in a more vulnerable position for all health outcomes. We already know that rates of asthma are higher in many low-income communities of color; we know that air quality is worse in some places in the state than others, and that many of those places are home to disadvantaged communities. It is just another thumb on the scale for these communities that they are more likely to suffer the worst consequences of COVID-19.
That study also found that African American, Latino, and Asian Californians are exposed to more particulates from cars, trucks, and buses than white Californians. The lowest-income households in the state live in areas with particulate rates that are ten percent or more higher than the state average, while the highest-income residents enjoy pollution rates that are thirteen percent below the state average.
Streetsblog California editor Melanie Curry has been thinking about transportation, and how to improve conditions for bicyclists, since her early days commuting by bike to UCLA long ago. She was Managing Editor at the East Bay Express, and edited Access Magazine for the University of California Transportation Center. She also earned her Masters in City Planning from UC Berkeley.
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