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

Mumbai: A first-of-its-kind pan-India study has highlighted a visible relationship between air pollution and Covid-19 in Mumbai and Pune, which are among the coronavirus hotspots in the country. A similar relationship has been identified in Nagpur and Chandrapur, too.

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’, the study looked at 16 cities from 36 states. Its authors said it provides the first evidence that pollution is a catalyst and aggravates Covid-19, greatly affecting those living in highly polluted areas.

The study has identified that Maharashtra, a hotspot state for coronavirus, is also leading in pollution caused by road transport, industrial and thermal power plants and biomass burning. The regions affected the most by pollution are also where the maximum number of coronavirus cases have been detected.

While the data was collected between March and November 2020, national PM 2.5 emission-load was estimated from base year 2019. The authors divided specific areas into different hotspot zones across India, and developed new emission data that was analysed along with reported positive Covid-19 cases and casualties. The study is also supported by Air Quality Data collected from over 16 stations across the country.

Dr Saroj Kumar Sahu, the lead author of the study, said from among 16 cities captured in the study, Mumbai and Pune recorded the third and fourth highest ‘bad air quality days’, respectively. While Mumbai had a total of 165 bad air quality days, Pune saw a total of 117 bad air quality days. In that period, Mumbai recorded 2.64 lakh Covid-19 cases and 10,445 deaths, which was the highest in the country. Pune, meanwhile, recorded 3.38 lakh Covid-19 cases and 7,060 deaths.

Dr Sahu said that the study has revealed that while Maharashtra is one of the leading industrialised and developed states with high PM2.5 emissions, district level emission estimation shows Mumbai experiences more pollution than Pune. “A similar relationship between pollution and Covid-19 cases and casualties has been established in Nagpur and Chandrapur, too,” he said.

Dr Sahu added, “What is worrying is that there’s evidence that coronavirus sticks to fine particles like PM2.5, allowing them to move and therefore making air-borne transmission of Covid-19 more effective.”

Dr Gufran Beig, senior scientist and founder project director of System of Air Quality Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR), and co-author of the paper, said exposure to air pollution can make a person’s lungs weak. He said, “Human-induced emissions, combined with the double impact of the Covid-19 virus, damage lungs much faster and worsen health conditions.”

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