In the News

New Study Reveals Connection Between Air Pollution and Risk of COVID Infection and Death in CA

PHI’s Tracking California study  makes a strong connection between air pollution and the risk of COVID-19 infection and death. Researchers estimate that more than 4,250 COVID-19 deaths could have been prevented in one year if all of California met National Ambient Air Quality Standards for PM2.5.  

air pollution outdoors

“California fashions itself as a place of sandy beaches and sunny skies, where we take our greens juiced and our cars electric.

But dual crises — the pandemic and the changing climate — have challenged this version of life in the Golden State. To date, California, the country’s most populous state, has racked up the most coronavirus infections in the U.S., while air monitoring data shows that Californians also breathe the most polluted air in the nation.

Now a growing body of research suggests this may be no coincidence. This week, researchers from the University of California San Francisco and the Public Health Institute published a study that found that Californians exposed to PM 2.5, a fine particulate matter that spews from tailpipes and industrial sources common in cities, had a much greater risk of infection and death from COVID-19.

The study, sponsored by the California Air Resources Board and published in the journal Environmental Advances, was one of the first to home in on neighborhood-level health and air monitoring data to explore the effect of long-term pollution exposure on COVID infections and mortality in the state.

The goal, said John Balmes, professor of medicine at UCSF and co-author of the report, was to improve upon previous research by applying a finer lens on population data and air quality in different air basins.

The results are grim: Residents exposed to long-term elevated levels of air pollution were 20% more likely to contract COVID-19 and over 50% more likely to die because of it. The study estimates that if air quality impacts were improved, over 4,000 deaths could have been prevented within the timeframe studied, which was between February 2020 and February 2021.

To put that another way, “We found a factor that could have prevented 9% of COVID deaths,” said Paul English, director of Tracking California at the Public Health Institute and co-author of the study. “That's a lot.

These findings come as yet another surge of the coronavirus washes over the Bay Area and mushrooming plumes of smoke from the first major wildfires of the summer billow in the distance, prompting the Bay Area’s Air District to extend an air quality advisory late into the week.”

Read the full study

To read the full news article, click on the link below.


Originally published by San Francisco Examiner

More Updates

Work With Us

You change the world. We do the rest. Explore fiscal sponsorship at PHI.

Bring Your Work to PHI

Support Us

Together, we can accelerate our response to public health’s most critical issues.


Find Employment

Begin your career at the Public Health Institute.

See Jobs

Aerial view of wildfire smoke


Wildfires & Extreme Heat: Resources to Protect Yourself & Your Community

Communities across the U.S. and around the world are grappling with dangerous wildfires and extreme heat. These threats disrupt and uproot communities and pose serious risks to environmental and community health—from rising temperatures, unhealthy air pollutants, water contamination and more. Find PHI tools, resources and examples to help communities take action and promote climate safety, equity and resiliency.

Get started

Continue to