Funded by: Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei
April 2020 / December 2020

Air pollution and COVID-19 related deaths

Long-term exposure to air pollutant concentration is known to cause chronic inflammation to the cardiovascular and respiratory systems, a condition that may favor the insurgence of COVID-19 syndrome caused by SARS-CoV2, the new coronavirus. The Air pollution and COVID-19 related deaths project, launched by Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei, the University of Florida’s One Health Center of Excellence, the University of Brescia and the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Milan, is intended to shed light on the linkage between long-term exposure to airborne fine particulate matter (PM) concentration and COVID-19 deaths in the first quarter of 2020 in Northern Italy, one of the areas most gravely affected by the contagion.

Main Results and Outputs

The project started during the COVID-19 insurgency with the aim to explore the potential impact of air pollution on the high mortality rates registered in Italy. The objectives and scope of the project are broadening as the project follows up and evidence emerges. So far, the collected results suggest that:

  • More polluted areas in Italy experienced the highest number of deaths (excessive deaths compared to the historical average);
  • The evidence of an impact of air pollution on COVID-19 deaths is robust to controls for population density and other geographical confounding factors;
  • The impact of air pollution on mortality is strictly connected to the COVID-19 pandemic, and there is no evidence of an effect of air pollution and generic mortality in that territory;
  • The non-experimental nature of the study does not allow to confirm the causal link between air pollution and COVID-19 deaths, but certainly the evidence suggests that the link is more than a simple correlation and further research in this direction is required.

Other researchers of the project:

Project team
Project leader
Sergio Vergalli
Modelling the Energy Transition - MET Programme Director Read more


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