It is already bad enough that Covid-19 will be a part of our lives from now on, but new research has discovered that the Pandemic could have been less severe if certain air pollutants hadn’t been around.
The last couple of years, and the first half of the present one, have been tough for everyone, but there are at least some signs that there might be an end to this tunnel. Even though there is now a semblance of normality, the reality is that, officially, the Pandemic isn’t over. Restrictions have been lifted, and the free flow of people through land and air transportation is coming back to pre-pandemic levels. This means that there is still some spreading of the virus happening worldwide. The new variants of Covid-19 are more infectious, albeit less severe, so contracting any of them today will probably be more of a nuisance than a life-threatening experience for most people.
Numbers are coming down. The WHO compiles sets of public data every week to keep track of the virus’ effects across borders, and there is reason to be optimistic. As per the writing of this article, the June 8 weekly report informs us that cases keep declining since the peak experienced in January of this year. Over three million cases were reported between May 30th and June 5th, which stands for a 12% decrease as compared to the previous week. Overall, infections, hospitalizations and deaths are coming down.
That’s reason enough to be merry, but that’s where it ends. The truth is that Covid-19 is here to stay and will become part of the yearly chores our immune system will have to deal with from here onwards, like flu, influenza and the common cold. That is bad enough, but now, researchers in Germany have found that the spread of it is facilitated by damage in the lungs caused by certain pollutants created during fossil fuel emissions.
Research has found that people exposed to high concentrations of Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) are more likely to enter ICU and require mechanical ventilation. These findings were presented recently at the annual meeting of the European Society of Anesthesiology and Intensive Care, in Milan, and they probably did not come as a surprise to the specialists, but as a confirmation of long held suspicious.
The negative effects of NO2 on health have been known for many years. However, the research done by scientists at Berlin’s Universitätsmedizin is one of the first to use hard national data to find correlation between high concentrations of it and Covid-19 patients entering ICU. The study also looked at other gasses produced after burning fossil fuels, like Nitrogen Monoxide (NO) and ground-level Ozone (O3), as well as fine particulate matter such as PM 2.5 particles. They produced a tri-pollutant model (NO2, O3, PM 2.5) for analysis and reached a definite conclusion: An increase of 1 micron per cubic meter of NO2 was found to be associated with an increased need for ICU hospitalizations due Covid-19 infections. In other words, exposure to NO2 can be correlated with high incidence of ICU hospitalizations.
What has been concluded by the study, is that the presence of NO2 long before the Pandemic may have played a key role in making people more vulnerable to Covid-19. Or, to put in other terms, the Pandemic would probably had been less severe had levels of NO2 in the air not been as high as they were. Knowing this, we could even say that Covid-19 was never just a biological issue, but also an industrial problem mediated by air pollution.
But let us break this apart and look at it under the magnifying glass. High concentrations and long exposure to NO2 is incredibly harmful to the lungs. It weakens them and may lead to cancer and asthma, as well as strokes and heart attacks. A body affected by it is left open to all kinds of infections, specially aggressive ones, because NO2 damages the blood vessels by directly affecting their endothelial cells, which are important in transferring breathed oxygen into the blood. Worse still, NO2 will continue to harm the body even after the infection is long gone. And it does not stay outdoors. It can be brought indoors by just opening the windows to ventilate a room, as the air brings it in, but it can also be produced by gas cookers and kerosene heaters.
The study was done using air pollution data from 2010 to 2019. This was then calculated to obtain the average levels of NO2 for each county in Germany, with Frankfurt holding the highest (32 microns per cubic meter) while Suhl held the lowest (4.6 microns per cubic meter), which is not strange, considering how the first is one of Germany’ largest and busiest cities, while the second is a serene community of just 37,000 inhabitants. Researchers then consulted data they obtained from the German Interdisciplinary Association for Intensive Care and Emergency Medicine (DIVI), for its German acronym) to know how many Covid-19 patients where hospitalized at ICU and required mechanical ventilation. They chose a study period between April 16, 2020, to May 16 of the same year, and included 392 out of Germany’s 402 counties to be studied.
Unsurprisingly, researchers found that areas with higher annual mean concentrations of NO2 reported more Covid-19 patients who required ICU hospitalization and mechanical ventilation. The ten counties with the highest long-term exposure to NO2 reported an average of 144 ICU beds and 102 ventilators, while the counties with the lowest concentrations reported an average of just 28 ICU beds and 19 ventilators. The difference between counties is considerable enough to think about the link between NO2 and severity of Covid-19 transmissions as a valid one, although researchers believe that more data needs to be acquired to prove direct causation. They, however, think that there is a biological explanation for all of this.
When Covid-19 enters an organism’s cells, it binds itself to ACE-2, a protein that regulates the functions of yet another protein, Angiotensin II, which controls inflammation. While under normal and healthy conditions ACE-2 controls the degrees of inflammation allowed by Angiotensin II, this function is disrupted when Covid-19 binds itself to it. This has been known since the virus was studied, but the problem is made worse after long exposure to NO2, which also causes inflammation and, therefore, more sever instances of Covid-19.
Conducting our lives indoors doesn’t solve the problem. As we have previously mentioned, NO2 can also be produced by broken appliances or introduced when we open windows to ventilate spaces. Not only does ventilation introduce this chemical into hour spaces; once it is there, it stays there, since even effective passive ventilation is not enough to take it back outdoors. Is there anything we can do?
These days, Covid-19 is not as strong as it used to be, but it is still highly contagious and annoying. Although presently there isn’t much that can be done about concentrations of NO2 outdoors, we can, in fact, do something about its presence indoors. HEPA filters have been found to be among the few methods that effectively remove it from any closed space, as these filters are strong enough to do away with 99.97% of all toxic air particles.
These are the filters that we use in our line of products. They come in all sizes and have been thought as solutions to any spatial need. We serve various industries that require their spaces to be pristine, with breathable air that is fresh, sanitary and of the upmost quality. Not only do our filters remove NO2, but they also filter away Covid-19 itself, along with many other viruses and pathogens, any pollen that might make its way inside, as well a PM 2.5 particles and a long list of other contaminants that we breath indoors.
Our filters can easily be moved between office rooms, and they have a filtering range of up to 1399 ft2. With low energy consumption, low noise and the highest CADR (Clean Air Delivery Rate) available, we offer the best product in the market. You could even try our demo kit for one month for 50%, since our commitment to a cleaner, healthier, indoors air is sincere. So why not give it a try? Covid-19 and NO2 pollution, unfortunately, are here to stay, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do something to protect yourself and your employees from them.