Key findings:

  • Seven of the top 10 polluting states were the top 25 states for COVID-19 deaths per 100K.
  • New research published on IOPscience found an increase in the respiratory hazard index is associated with a 9% increase in COVID-19 mortality.
  • A Harvard study found long-term exposure to air pollution was associated with a 15% increase in COVID-19 deaths.
  • During the COVID-19 pandemic, countries hit hardest like China, South Korea and Italy have experienced a 20% to 40% drop in air pollution.
  • Texas, California and Florida are the biggest polluters and among the highest number of COVID-19 deaths per 100K.

How pollution is affecting COVID-19?

The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced early on in the COVID-19 outbreak that people most at risk from COVID-19 are those with underlying health conditions of chronic lung disease and cardiovascular disease. Common underlying health conditions include asthma, COPD, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. These common underlying health conditions in most places around the country are elevated as a result of air pollution. Poor air quality puts people at greater risk of developing respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. It’s likely that high-pollution areas around the country are putting people at greater risk of COVID-19.

We here at QuoteWizard analyzed Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Air Pollutant Emissions Trends Data over a period of 2013 to 2017 (latest year available) to see which states are the biggest polluters. We then paired the state's pollution figures with the most recent (September 14th) deaths per 100,000 people to show the relationship between pollution and death rates from COVID-19. We found that 7 of the top 10 polluting states were among the top 25 states for COVDI-19 death rates. There are most certainly other factors that correlate to the number of cases and deaths from COVID-19, but preliminary data seems to indicate a strong correlation between pollution-related disease and the severity of COVID-19.

Biggest polluting states

State Pollution Rank COVID-19 Deaths per 100k
Texas 1 49
California 2 36
Florida 3 59
Missouri 4 27
Washington 5 26
Illinois 6 67
Georgia 7 61
Ohio 8 37
Oregon 9 12
Louisiana 10 112
Alaska 11 5
Alabama 12 48
Pennsylvania 13 61
Indiana 14 51
Michigan 15 69
Oklahoma 16 22
Minnesota 17 35
New York 18 170
North Carolina 19 29
Kansas 20 17
Tennessee 21 30
Virginia 22 32
Arkansas 23 32
Kentucky 24 23
Arizona 25 74
Wisconsin 26 20
Iowa 27 38
Idaho 28 23
Mississippi 29 90
South Carolina 30 60
Colorado 31 34
North Dakota 32 22
New Mexico 33 39
Montana 34 12
Nebraska 35 22
New Jersey 36 179
Maryland 37 63
Utah 38 13
Massachusetts 39 133
Wyoming 40 7
West Virginia 41 14
South Dakota 42 20
Nevada 43 49
Connecticut 44 125
Hawaii 45 6
Maine 46 10
New Hampshire 47 32
Vermont 48 9
Delaware 49 63
Rhode Island 50 101
Data show the trends for Tier 1 categories which distinguish pollutant emission contributions among major source types. The trends and totals shown are for criteria air pollutants (CAPs) and precursors covered by the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS), excluding lead.

A team of researchers at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health drew a similar conclusion in a study on long-term exposure to air pollution and COVID-19 mortality. Their study aimed to find a connection in people with underlying health conditions, the same that are affected by long-term exposure to air pollution, and the increased risk of death from COVID-19. Their results found that an increase of one microgram of fine particulates per cubic meter (air pollution metrics) is associated with a 15% increase in COVID-19 death rate.

A similar study conducted by researchers at Aarhus University in Denmark found probable correlation between air pollution and mortality in Italy’s COVID-19 outbreak. The study found a 12% mortality rate in the more polluted northern regions of Italy compared to the 4.5% mortality rate in southern regions of Italy.

Another study published in IOPscience used a model that looked at heavily polluted areas of Louisiana and New York. The report found a close correlation in the respiratory hazard index was associated with a 9% increase in COVID-19 mortality rate.