Air pollution and Covid-19

By: Christer Ågren

Following a request from the European Parliament’s environment committee, a group of medical scientists led by Bert Brunekreef at Utrecht University have produced a report discussing the potential effects of air pollution on Covid-19. Below is a summary of the recommendations from this expert report:

  • The overall impact of air pollution on heart and chronic lung disease is more than large enough to motivate aggressive reduction policies. Current EU limit values for PM2.5 and NO₂ do not protect public health sufficiently and need to be lowered. Policies that protect the population from the effects of air pollution are also likely to protect against Covid-19 deaths possibly attributable to air pollution.
  • Regarding indoor air pollution, no-regret policies such as aggressively discouraging smoking in the home, phasing out woodstoves and improving the ventilation of cooking emissions will likely reduce the burden of respiratory and cardiovascular disease.
  • Measures aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions often lower emissions of hazardous air pollutants as well, and it is of vital importance to seek and strengthen co-benefits from measures taken in each of these two domains.
  • Air pollution causes chronic diseases such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), lung cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Many of these conditions predispose to Covid-19 hospitalizations, intensive care unit admissions and deaths. For this reason alone, there is serious concern about negative impacts of air pollution on the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • Further work is needed, following methods elaborated by WHO and the Global Burden of Disease collaboration, to quantify the burden of Covid-19 attributable to air pollution.
  • Many Covid-19 survivors have been burdened by adverse long-term conditions affecting the heart, the lungs and other organ systems. This is of great concern as these conditions can be worsened by air pollution exposure.
  • Air pollution and Covid-19 likely affect disadvantaged populations more adversely due to higher exposures and/or increased vulnerability. Therefore, actions to mitigate the adverse effects of both air pollution and Covid-19 should be targeted at disadvantaged groups in particular, where the need is greatest.


Christer Ågren


The report “Air pollution and COVID-19” (January 2021) is available at:

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