Does Pollution Complicate COVID Death Rate?

A recent study by Harvard University researchers shows a correlation between long exposure to air pollution and high probability of death from COVID-19. However, it must be noted that pollution levels across the world have reduced significantly due to Coronavirus lockdown.
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Crux of the Matter

Pollution Making COVID Deadlier?
Constant exposure to pollution has chronic effects on the human body. Air pollution triggers many diseases such as heart attack, lung, and respiratory diseases, cancer, etc. WHO report states that 7 million premature deaths happen due to air pollution in a year. The particulate matter (PM) present in the air is responsible for deteriorating respiratory illnesses when inhaled. PM is a mixture of organic and chemical particles. Airborne particulates are likely to exacerbate the spread of the disease. Although there are no clear links of Coronaivur spreading through the air, some studies say that reducing air pollution may reduce the spread of coronavirus.

A recently published research at Harvard University says that long exposure to air pollution reduces the natural ability to fight against viruses like the SARS, MERS, and SARS-CoV-2. According to it, 80% of deaths in Italy, Spain, France, and Germany happened in regions with high pollution. The study was primarily done by analyzing data of counties of the US. “An increase of 1 μg/m3 (micrograms per cubic meter) in PM2.5 is associated with an 8% increase in the COVID-19 death rate,” said the study.

Expert Opinions
It is also a matter of concern for India as it is home to 14 polluted cities out of the top 20 polluted cities in the world. Dr. Maria Neira of the WHO warned that countries with high pollution in Latin America, Africa, and Asia should boost their epidemic response, and governments must introduce a new set of policies to tackle this problem.

The results indicate that long-term exposure to this pollutant may be one of the most important contributors to fatality caused by the Covid-19 virus in these regions and maybe across the whole world.

Yaron Ogen, Researcher, Martin Luther University Germany

On the other hand, Trump administration recently rolled back Obama-era automobile fuel efficiency standards. Under the new amendment, trump has given relaxation to emit more carbon, which many feel nullifies the key step of former USA governments to tackle the problem of climate change.

  • Atmospheric Particulate Matter is one of the three primary forms of Particulate Pollution. The other two are Marine Debris and Space Debris. Particulate pollution is a pollution of an environment that consists of particles suspended in some medium.
  • In February 2019, the Siberian cities of Prokopyevsk, Kiselyovsk, and Leninsk-Kuznetsky witnessed itself covered in black snow due to excessive pollution because of nearby coal mines. Local News channels quoted, “Three separate cities within the coal-mining region of Kemerovo in southwest Siberia have been blanketed in a thick, black deluge of toxic snow, polluted by ever-present coal dust that pervades the atmosphere – and now the surface, too.” Images of the same on social media were said to give a post-apocalyptic feeling.
  • An aerosol is a suspension of fine solid particles or liquid droplets in air or another gas. Aerosols can be natural or anthropogenic (due to humans). Examples of natural aerosols are fog, mist, dust, forest exudates, and geyser steam. Examples of anthropogenic aerosols are particulate air pollutants and smoke. Aerosol stands for “Aero-Solution”.

India to be in league of nations using cleanest petrol and diesel

From April 1, 2020, India will shift its petrol and diesel quality from euro 4 to the cleanest one i.e. euro 5 standard. It will contain just 10 parts per million of sulfur, emission of which would result in less pollution.

Crux of the Matter

India has switched its fuel-grade from euro 4 equivalent, Bharat Standard (BS 4) to euro 5 within the period of only 3 years. No other country has been able to make fuel quality up-gradation this quick. In past India took seven years to upgrade its fuel quality from euro 3 i.e fuel with 350 ppm of sulfur to euro 4 i.e. fuel with 50 ppm.

To meet the demand of ultra-low sulfur petrol and diesel, state-owned refineries spent a sum of Rs 35,000 crores to upgrade its plants. In the latest upgrade, the amount of investment was around Rs. 60,000 crores. The amount of benzene present in petrol has been also reduced from 5% in 2000 to 1% in 2020.

We are absolutely on track for supplying BS-VI fuel from April 1. Almost all refineries have begun supplying BS-VI fuel and the same has reached storage depots across the country.

– Sanjiv Singh, IOC Chairman

Oil companies have already started the supply of euro 5 standard fuel from 2018 in Delhi and from 2019 in four districts of Rajasthan as well as seven districts of Haryana, due to high levels of pollutions. Oil Corporation has also started producing euro 5 fuel from the end of 2019 and from storage depots, it will be supplied across the whole nation from April 1, 2020. Mr. Sanjiv further added, “We are 100 percent confident that fuel that will flow from nozzles at all the petrol pumps in the country on April 1 will be BS-VI emission compliant fuel.”


Bharat stage emission standards – Bharat stage emission standards (BSES) are emission standards instituted by the Government of India to regulate the output of air pollutants from internal combustion engines and Spark-ignition engines equipment, including motor vehicles. The standards and the timeline for implementation are set by the Central Pollution Control Board under the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change. More Info.

Reliance Industries to use plastics in road construction

India, that uses about 14 million tonnes of plastic annually, lacks an organized system for the management of plastic waste, leading to widespread littering. Amidst growing concerns over pollution, Reliance Industries is launching a project to use plastics in road construction.

Crux of the Matter
  • RIL seeks to work with NHAI and individual states to potentially supply a plastics-infused mix to make roads.
  • Reliance wants to use light plastics, carry bags or snack wrappers, that are typically not viable to recycle and that end up in landfills, street corners or oceans and rather mix it with bitumen, a formula which is cheaper and long-lasting.
  • Vipul Shah, the COO of the RIL petrochemicals said, ” This can be a game-changing project both for our environment and our roads.”
  • Sunil Dahiya, Analyst at the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air said, “It is happening internationally and now has started percolating to India too, though it’s at a very early stage.”
  • PM Narendra Modi is urging India to end the consumption of single-use plastics by 2022. 

Plastic roads are made entirely of plastic or of composites of plastic with other materials. Plastic roads are different from standard roads in the respect that standard roads are made from asphalt concrete, which consists of mineral aggregates and asphalt. There are two kinds of Plastic roads. One consists of modular, hollow and prefabricated road elements made from consumer waste plastics and others that consist of an asphalt mix with plastic waste incorporated into the asphalt mixture. The technology was initially developed and patented by Rajagopalan Vasudevan of the Thiagarajar College of Engineering. This method will help in making roads much faster and also will save the environment from dangerous plastic waste. More Info

Government Aims at Full Electrification of Railways By 2023

In a positive move by the railway ministry to control carbon emissions and reduce environmental pollution Union Minister, Piyush Goyal has announced objectives of full electrification of Indian Railways by 2023 and making it the world’s first net-zero railway by 2030.

Crux of the Matter
  • According to NITI Aayog, carbon dioxide emission from the Indian Railways in 2014 was nearly 6.84 million tons.
  • The Government is phasing out old coal plants in order to reduce environmental pollution and in turn to create the demand for new plants and investments.
  • It aims to source 10% of its electrical energy from renewable sources for which the ministry has planned to set up 1000 Mega Watt (MW) solar power project by 2020-21.
  • Ministry of Railways has signed MoU with Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) to foster the green initiatives with a primary objective to bring in efficiency in manufacturing facilities, greening of the railway properties, demonstrative pilots of net-zero energy buildings.
  • Ministry is also looking in at the substitution of 20% Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) with solar energy-based DEMU (Diesel Electric Multiple Unit).

The Paris Agreement is an agreement within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) signed in 2016. As of November 2019, 195 UNFCCC members have signed the agreement, and 187 have become a party to it. Its long-term temperature goal is to keep the increase in global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5 °C. Under the Paris Agreement, each country must determine, plan, and regularly report on the contribution that it undertakes to mitigate global warming. Net zero-emission implies that all man-made greenhouse gas emissions must be removed from the atmosphere through reduction measures, which will make the earth carbon neutral and global temperature would be stabilised. More Info

SC Questions Effectiveness of Odd-Even Scheme, Asks Delhi Govt for Reports

Delhi government was asked by the Supreme Court to find new ways to combat pollution as the Odd-Even Scheme seems to be a temporary solution. The SC also asked the local govt to produce any evidence of significant change in the pollution level on account of the Odd-Even Rule.

Crux of the Matter
  • Central Pollution Control board said that cars contribute to only 3% of the total pollution and the combined pollution level of vehicles is around 28%.
  • The major contributor to the pollution level in Delhi is the stubble burning in the adjacent states of Punjab and Haryana.
  • AQI – averaging 600 every day – declined once again to the warning level this week.
  • Supreme Court has recommended the local government to explore Japanese air-purifying technology.
  • SC criticized the implementation the odd-even rule and the exemptions made for two-wheelers. It sought reports on improving conditions from the local government. The continuation of odd-even seems to have been stalled.

Odd-even rationing is a method of rationing in which access to some resource is restricted to some of the population on any given day. In a common example, drivers of private vehicles may be allowed to drive, park, or purchase gasoline on alternating days, according to whether the last digit in their license plate is even or odd. Similarly, during a drought, houses can be restricted from using water outdoors according to the parity of the house number. Read More