Read the full article by Sharon Lerner (The Intercept)
“ALMOST SIX MONTHS into the coronavirus pandemic, it’s already clear that environmental pollution is responsible for some portion of the hundreds of thousands of Covid-19 deaths around the world. Now scientists are trying to pinpoint how exactly industrial chemicals make people more susceptible to the coronavirus and how much of the blame for the devastation wrought by the new coronavirus should be laid at the feet of the industry that produces those chemicals.
The link between Covid-19 and air pollution is particularly strong. A study set to publish in July linked six air pollutants in 120 Chinese cities with cases of the viral disease. Researchers in Italy have also shown that long-term exposure to air pollution is ‘significantly correlated with cases of Covid-19’ in up to 71 provinces in that country. And a study that used data from California, set to publish in Environmental Research in August, showed that the air pollutants PM2.5, PM 10, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, and sulfur dioxide were associated with coronavirus infections. The authors of that study concluded that reducing exposure to these pollutants ‘will contribute to defeating COVID-19.’
Scientists have even managed to measure the precise harm that a single microgram/cubic meter increase in air pollution has on a population, which, according to researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, is “an 8% increase in mortality from COVID-19.”
While alarming, these findings aren’t surprising, according to Linda Birnbaum, the former director of the National Institutes for Environmental Health Sciences and the National Toxicology Program, who stepped down last year. ‘Everything in our health is determined by our environment,’ she said.
In addition to air pollutants, Birnbaum pointed to the potential for endocrine-disrupting chemicals to make people more vulnerable to Covid-19. Among them are BPA and its replacements; phthalates, which are found in makeup, nail polish, and plastics, particularly food packaging; and PFAS, a class of industrial contaminants most famously used to make Teflon and other nonstick products.
Exposure to even very small amounts of these chemicals has been linked with conditions that have been shown to make Covid-19 worse. Phthalates are associated with damage to lungs and obesity, as well as to diabetes, the second most common underlying condition in people who die of Covid-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. BPA, which is often added to food packaging and drink bottles, is also linked to obesity, as well as asthma and diabetes.
PFAS, which also interferes with the functioning of the endocrine system, has been shown to cause several underlying conditions that leave people more vulnerable to Covid-19. People with higher levels of PFAS in their bodies are more likely to gain weight and have a harder time losing it. The chemicals not only increase obesity risk in those exposed, but also in the granddaughters of women who were exposed. And PFAS is associated with asthma and hypertension, two other conditions that appear to worsen people’s chances of surviving Covid-19. PFAS causes kidney disease and elevates levels of cholesterol and other fats in the blood, which also increase the chances that people with Covid-19 will be hospitalized or need intensive care…”