3. June 2020
COVID-19: Does pollution play a role?

Pollution causes disease. High levels of pollution may also be one of the reasons why more people are dying from the novel coronavirus in certain regions. A geoscientist from Halle has made this discovery.

It has long been known that nitrogen dioxide (NO2) damages the airways and worsens symptoms in people with respiratory problems such as asthma.
Yaron Ogen of Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU) investigated whether NO2 levels influence the course of COVID-19, the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. “Since the novel coronavirus also affects the respiratory tract, it is reasonable to assume that there might be a correlation between air pollution and the number of deaths from Covid-19”, says Ogen.


In his work, he correlated satellite data on air pollution to COVID-19 fatalities. He discovered that more people died from COVID-19 in regions with high NO2 levels and low air circulation than in less polluted areas. This applies to locations such as northern Italy, the greater Madrid region and Wuhan province in China. These regions have one thing in common: They are all surrounded by mountains, which trap pollutants inside the area. “This increases the likelihood of exposure to pollutants”, explains Ogen.


Many studies have already shown that long-term exposure to air pollution is harmful to health. This could also be the reason why people in polluted regions are less resistant to the virus, adds Ogen. His results provide initial indications that need to be confirmed through further investigations in other regions.


Last updated: 15 May 2020



Bank-Zillman M. Corona and air pollution: how does nitrogen dioxide impact fatalities? Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU), press release from 20 April 2020.

Original publication

Orgen Y. Assessing nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels as a contributing factor to coronavirus (COVID-19) fatality. Sci Total Environ. 2020;726:138605.