COVID-19 & Automotive in-cabin air pollution
The Coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, is a worldwide pandemic outbreak, spreading over 176 countries. Since 31 December 2019 and as of 21 March 2020, 271,364 cases of COVID-19 have been reported, including 11,252 deaths – A death rate of 4.14%. According to the CDC, Older adults and people of any age who have serious underlying medical conditions may be at higher risk for more serious complications from COVID-19.
The COVID-19 has completely changed our way of life. Most major cities are under quarantine, public transportation is nearly entirely halted, borders are closed even between the US and Canada or within the EU.
As millions of people around the world quarantine in their homes to prevent the spread of COVID-19, research and photos show that quarantines appear to have made a positive, if unintended, impact on the environment.
In February, air quality researches from NASA reported that there was a dramatic drop in Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) emissions coming from China, especially from Hubei province — the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic. Similar decline in air pollution can be observed in the UK and any other country effected by COVID-19.
NO2 levels went down drastically after the mandatory lockdowns in China & Italy in response to COVID-19. Images courtesy of from international research organization Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA).
Interestingly, NO2 levels across China have been on the rise since the week ended on 23 February, While NO2 concentrations in northern Italy plunged for the week ended on 3 March as officials moved first in the north of the country to quarantine cities, the images showed. Italy later ordered a nationwide quarantine. According to this data, it is probable that the air pollution decline due to COVID-19 quarantine is temporary at best, and expected to rise back as the virus gets contained. Eventually, it might even surpass pre-CORVID-19 air pollution measurements due to economy rebound and production boost.
Air Pollution and COVID-19
Air pollution may also affect the mortality rate of COVID-19. Early analyses have identified hypertension as the leading simultaneous chronic disease (comorbidity) in patients who have died from COVID-19. Studies have linked air pollution, particularly NO2, to hypertension.
In an interview with The Hindu, a medical community named Doctors For Clean Air (DFCA) stated that long-term exposure to high levels of air pollution compromises an individual’s lung function, making that person more susceptible to viral infections. Due to the lungs’ reduced capacity, such individuals are also likely to face greater health complications, particularly related to COVID-19, as compared to their healthier counterparts.
The European Public Health Alliance (EPHA) also warned that dirty air in urban areas that causes hypertension, diabetes and other respiratory illness could lead to a higher overall death toll from the virus currently sweeping the world. Moreover, High levels of air pollution have also been linked to larger numbers of people hospitalized with pneumonia, studies in the US and China have found.
Having said that, a recent study clearly established smoking—which also affects lung functioning—as an important factor in COVID-19’s progression into pneumonia. In fact, experts suggest that smoking might be the reason behind COVID-19 killing more men than women in China, as men are far more prevalent smokers in the east Asian country.
Another recent study held in Jinan, China has shown that even short-term exposure to air pollution, especially PM2.5, PM10, CO and SO2, can increase the risk of influenza-like illness: “The government should create regulatory policies to reduce the level of air pollutants and remind people to practice preventative and control measures to decrease the incidence of ILI on pollution days”.
Relative humidity and temperature were also found to influence ILI, as changes in absolute humidity and temperature were able to satisfactorily explain the long-term trends of ILI incidence rate in the Netherlands during 1970–2016.
In-Cabin Air quality
The public transportation shut-down led by most countries leaves the privately owned vehicles as the major means of transportation for the near future. However, the interior of the vehicle is still a sub-optimal means of transportation if one wishes to minimize risk of COVID-19 infection.
Emissions from petrol and diesel engines were still at “dangerous” levels that could imperil the most vulnerable during this and future pandemics, said the European Respiratory Society (EPS), which is a member of the EPHA. “This is likely also the case for COVID-19,” added Sara De Matteis, who is also an associate professor in occupational and environmental medicine at Italy’s Cagliari University.
The interior of the vehicle, as studies have shown, is a highly polluted environment with poor air quality including the presence of Particulate Matters, Volatile Organic Compounds, Nitrogen Dioxide and more. As described by Berkley Wellness:
Pollutant levels are often higher inside because cars take in emissions from surrounding vehicles and recirculate them. Studies have found that as much as half of the pollutants inside test cars come from the vehicles immediately ahead, especially if those vehicles are highly polluting, such as heavy-duty diesel trucks. Levels of some pollutants and toxic compounds can be as much as 10 times higher inside vehicles than alongside the road.
At Crispify, we have collected a vast dataset of in-cabin Air Quality Index (AQI) and compared to outside AQI taken from stationary monitoring stations.
Looking at this data gathered from a typical morning drive on the Ayalon freeway at Tel-Aviv during rush hour (Skoda Octavia sedan, 3 commuters with closed windows, HVAC on RC) it clearly shows how the in-cabin environment is filled with pollutants almost the entire drive. Without proper in-cabin air quality management, the environment inside the vehicle remains fertile settings for virus, fungi and bacteria infection.
Taking into consideration that air pollution has a significant linkage to COVID-19 outbreak especially to older adults and people of any age who have serious underlying medical conditions, it is strongly recommended to make sure the air within the vehicle is properly managed, taking into consideration various types of pollutants, temperature and humidity.
Needless to say, if you or someone else who has been in your vehicle shows symptoms of the illness, you should clean frequently touched surfaces, including the steering wheel, door handles, shift lever, any buttons or touch screens, wiper and turn signal stalks, passenger and driver door armrests, grab handles, and seat adjusters.
Crispify intend to allocate whatever resources needed to help anyone who is researching the COVID-19 epidemic related to the automotive industry. Hence, we are open for any clinical studies or experiments regarding air quality within the vehicle and commuters’ health.
Stay safe, stay indoors.