People living in polluted areas prone to Covid: Study

People residing in highly polluted areas of Maharashtra prone to Covid-19 infection: Study

Maharashtra recorded the second-highest emission load in India

Representative Image. Credit: Reuters File Photo

A first-of-its-kind pan-India study has highlighted Mumbai and Pune among hotspots in the country, where high air pollution from the transport and industrial sectors have a visible relationship with a higher number of Covid-19 cases and casualties.

The study titled – “establishing a link between fine particulate matter (PM2.5) zones and Covid-19 over India based on anthropogenic emission sources and air quality data” – provided the first evidence about how people living in highly polluted areas are vulnerable to Covid-19 infection.

"Air has suspended particulate matter (PM) of different sizes. Many of these are a complex mixture of dust, pollen, soot and smoke and they are hazardous. Of this, PM 2.5 is the smaller kind, with a diameter, not more than 2.5 micrometres (fine particles). PM2.5 is considered to have a very significant health impact as it can stay in the air for days or weeks, and is small enough to invade the lung airways," the study notes.

The authors of the study are Dr Saroj Kumar Sahu, PG Environment Sciences and Poonam Mangaraj, PG Environment Sciences from Utkal University, Bhubaneswar, Gufran Beig, Senior Scientist and Suvarna Tikle, Scientist from IITM-Pune, Bhishma Tyagi, National Institute of Technology, Rourkela and V Vinoj, IIT-Bhubaneswar.

In the study, Covid-19 cases were observed between March 2020 to November 2020, while national PM 2.5 emissions load were estimated from the base year 2019.

“Our findings suggest a significant correlation between the district level air pollution data and Covid-19 cases. We found that regions with huge amounts of fossil fuel such as petrol, diesel, and coal etc. combustion in transport and industrial activities, also experiences a lot more Covid-19 cases,” said Dr Sahu, Lead Author of the study, adding that the health impacts of air pollution and Covid-19 also had similar linkages. 

Maharashtra recorded the second-highest emission load -- 828.3 Gigagram per year (Gg/Yr) of PM2.5 -- in India (Uttar Pradesh was the highest) based on the National Emission Inventory developed by us, said Dr Sahu.

During the same period -- till November 5, 2020 -- Maharashtra recorded 17.19 lakh Covid-19 cases, which was the highest in the country.

“However it is important to note that in terms of PM2.5 emission per person, Maharashtra is ahead of Uttar Pradesh,” said Dr Sahu. Among the 16 cities, Mumbai and Pune recorded the third and fourth highest -- 165 and 117 -- ‘bad air quality days’ respectively.

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Parallelly, Mumbai recorded 2.64 lakh Covid-19 cases and 10,445 deaths during this period, which was the highest in the country while Pune recorded 3.38 lakh Covid-19 cases and 7,060 deaths.

Apart from Mumbai and Pune, the study also presented two other hotspots -- Nagpur and Chandrapur -- in Maharashtra that witnessed high pollution as well as higher Covid-19 cases and casualties.

“Though these cities were not directly part of our study, both locations have the presence of industrial units and power plants that aggravate air pollution making them hotspots in Maharashtra,” said Dr Sahu.

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