Improving air quality can decrease the health costs of epidemics, say researchers

Air pollution remains the biggest environmental health risk in Europe and continues to be a major cause of premature death and disease. Yet, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw a temporary increase in air quality as a result of lockdowns enforced to contain the spread of virus. Scientists have delved into the topic with current studies showing that improving air quality can decrease the health costs of epidemics, and health costs in general.

In a recent event organised by EPHA: Air Pollution and Health: Improving Air Quality and Tackling Epidemics, researchers from Helmholtz Munich and CE Delft presented their findings, followed by a debate on measures to limit air pollution. According to Prof. Dr. Annette Peters (Helmholtz Munich), there is emerging evidence that air pollution is linked to infectious diseases. She stated that the pandemic situation is complex and studies have yet to understand the extent of its impact, however, action to reduce air pollution is needed regardless.

Daan Juijn, from the Dutch consultancy CE Delft, investigated the situation in the Netherlands and found that lower levels of air pollution would’ve required fewer COVID-19 lockdown measures. Therefore, the social costs and effects of the pandemic are likely higher in countries with higher levels of air pollution.

In September 2022, WHO updated its global air quality guidelines, and the European Commission is set to revise its 2008 Air Quality Directive this year. Even though the situation is improving, most EU countries are still above the recommended pollution limits, and while the relationship between air pollution and virus transmissibility remains uncertain, it gives us more reason to implement stricter air quality guidelines.

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