Air pollution linked to higher Covid-19 death rate, new study reveals

Marginal increases in air pollution are linked to a significant increase in the Covid-19 death rate, according to new analysis from Harvard University released today. [1]

The study, conducted in the United States, found an increase of only 1 μg/m3 in PM2.5 is associated with a 15 percent increase in the Covid-19 death rate.

Coal-burning power stations and coal mines are the largest single source of PM2.5 pollution in Australia. [2]

“Now more than ever, it’s critical that state governments put a lid on the hazardous pollution from coal-burning power stations,” said Dr Nikola Casule, Head of Research and Investigations at Greenpeace Australia Pacific.

“For years, coal-burning power stations have been fuelling a public health crisis by pumping dozens of toxic chemicals into the air. Just this week it was revealed that Delta Electricity’s ageing New South Wales Vales Point coal-burning power station recorded a tripling in PM 2.5 pollution in the 2018/19 financial year. Delta, and its chairman, Trevor St Baker, are putting Australian lives at risk during this unprecedented global pandemic.”

The Harvard study provides further confirmation that air pollution is a major public health risk that has left communities that house coal-burning power stations particularly vulnerable to Covid-19. A 2018 study by epidemiologist and Hunter Valley GP Dr Ben Ewald found that air pollution from NSW’s coal-burning power stations, including Vales Point, lead to 279 premature deaths each year. [3]

“During the current pandemic, it is more important than ever that we do all we can to protect Australians’ health,” Dr Casule said.

“People whose respiratory health has suffered because of existing air pollution from coal-burning power stations are more vulnerable to COVID-19 and they should be protected by rapidly replacing our ageing and unreliable coal fleet with clean energy sources like wind and solar.”