Pune, Mumbai Pollution Hotspots In India; Researchers Establish Link Between Air-Pollution And COVID-19 Infections And Resulting Deaths 

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Manasi Saraf Joshi

Pune, 25th June 2021: First of its kind study carried out in pan India has revealed that the people living in polluted areas with PM2.5 emission load are more susceptible to COVID-19 infections.

“The pollution from the transport and industrial sectors are having a visible relationship with a higher number of Covid-19 cases and casualties”, the study says.

Maharashtra recorded the second-highest annual PM2.5 emission load in India and Mumbai and Pune were among the hotspots in the country. The study ‘Establishing a link between fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) zones and Covid-19 over India based on anthropogenic emission sources and air quality data’, provided the first evidence that people living in highly polluted areas are vulnerable to Covid-19 infection.

How was the study conducted? 

The researchers conducted the study between March 202 to November 202, while national PM 2.5 emissions load were estimated from the base year 2019. The samples were taken from 16 cities across 36 states. Mumbai and Pune were selected from Maharashtra apart from Nagpur and Chandrapur.

They calculated a load of total fine particle (PM 2.5) pollutants from various sources at a high-resolution (10 kmX 10km) grid across the country for over a year. They developed new emission data which was analyzed with the reported positive Covid-19 cases and casualties.

Findings from the study

“There is a correlation between air pollution and upper respiratory tract infections”, said Saroj Kumar Sahu, lead author while talking to Punekarnews. 

“Air pollution is a catalyst that aggravates the infections. “There have been studies in Europe which has shown that the highly industrial areas like Italy, Germany have a high number of Covid-19 cases”, he informed.

Fossil fuel burning in combustion produces more small dust particles than biomass burning which is incomplete combustion. That means it does not produce very small dust particles, he said. 

“Thus in rural areas where biomass burning is more, the cases were less compared to urban industrialised or with modern transport system running on petrol or diesel”, he informed.

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 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 captured in the study, Mumbai and Pune recorded the third and fourth highest ‘bad air quality days’ respectively. For Mumbai, out of a total of 165 bad air quality days. Similarly, Pune saw a total of 117 bad air quality days. 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.

Link between air-pollution sources and Covid-19

The study identified that Maharashtra has emerged as a dominating polluting state where the road transport sector plays an important role followed by industrial, thermal power plants and biomass burning among others.  

“What is worrying is that there is evidence that the Coronavirus sticks to fine particles like PM2.5 allowing them to move from one part to another by making the airborne transmission of Covid-19 more effective,” said Sahu, adding that polluted hotspots are also triggering long term effects and more studies are needed to understand this.

Gufran Beig, Senior Scientist & Founder Project Director, System of Air Quality Weather Forecasting And Research (SAFAR) and co-author of the paper said that at hotspots within Maharashtra exposure to daily air pollution can make a person’s lungs weak. 

“When human-induced emissions are added combined with the double impact of the Covid-19 virus, the damage to lungs will be much faster and worsen health conditions,” he said.