Does living close to a petrochemical complex increase the adverse psychological effects of the COVID-19 lockdown?

PLoS One. 2021 Mar 17;16(3):e0249058. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0249058. eCollection 2021.


The petrochemical industry has made the economic development of many local communities possible, increasing employment opportunities and generating a complex network of closely-related secondary industries. However, it is known that petrochemical industries emit air pollutants, which have been related to different negative effects on mental health. In addition, many people around the world are being exposed to highly stressful situations deriving from the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdowns adopted by national and regional governments. The present study aims to analyse the possible differential effects on various psychological outcomes (stress, anxiety, depression and emotional regulation strategies) stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic and consequent lockdown experienced by individuals living near an important petrochemical complex and subjects living in other areas, nonexposed to the characteristic environmental pollutants emitted by these kinds of complex. The sample consisted of 1607 subjects who answered an ad hoc questionnaire on lockdown conditions, the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS), the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS), the Barratt Impulsivity Scale (BIS) and the Emotional Regulation Questionnaire (ERQ). The results indicate that people living closer to petrochemical complexes reported greater risk perception [K = 73.42, p < 0.001, with a medium size effect (η2 = 0.061)]. However, no significant relationship between psychological variables and proximity to the focus was detected when comparing people living near to or far away from a chemical/petrochemical complex. Regarding the adverse psychological effects of the first lockdown due to COVID-19 on the general population in Catalonia, we can conclude that the conditions included in this survey were mainly related to changes in the participants' impulsivity levels, with different total impulsivity scores being obtained if they had minors in their care (p<0.001), if they had lost their jobs, if they were working (p<0.001), if they were not telecommuting (p<0.001), if they went out to work (p<0.001) or if they established routines (p = 0.009). However, we can also be fairly certain that the economic effects are going to be worse than those initially detected in this study. More research will be necessary to corroborate our results.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anxiety / psychology
  • Anxiety Disorders / psychology
  • COVID-19 / psychology*
  • Depression / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Health
  • Pandemics / statistics & numerical data
  • Quarantine / psychology*
  • Spain
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires

Grant support

The authors received no specific funding for this work.