Long-Term Air Pollution Exposure and COVID-19 Mortality: A Patient-Level Analysis from New York City

Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2022 Mar 15;205(6):651-662. doi: 10.1164/rccm.202104-0845OC.


Rationale: Risk factors for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) mortality may include environmental exposures such as air pollution. Objectives: To determine whether, among adults hospitalized with PCR-confirmed severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), long-term air pollution exposure is associated with the risk of mortality, ICU admission, or intubation. Methods: We performed a retrospective analysis of SARS-CoV-2 PCR-positive patients admitted to seven New York City hospitals from March 8, 2020, to August 30, 2020. The primary outcome was mortality; secondary outcomes were ICU admission and intubation. We estimated the annual average fine particulate matter (particulate matter ⩽2.5 μm in aerodynamic diameter [PM2.5]), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), and black carbon (BC) concentrations at patients' residential address. We employed double robust Poisson regression to analyze associations between the annual average PM2.5, NO2, and BC exposure level and COVID-19 outcomes, adjusting for age, sex, race or ethnicity, hospital, insurance, and the time from the onset of the pandemic. Results: Among the 6,542 patients, 41% were female and the median age was 65 (interquartile range, 53-77) years. Over 50% self-identified as a person of color (n = 1,687 [26%] Hispanic patients; n = 1,659 [25%] Black patients). Air pollution exposure levels were generally low. Overall, 31% (n = 2,044) of the cohort died, 19% (n = 1,237) were admitted to the ICU, and 16% (n = 1,051) were intubated. In multivariable models, a higher level of long-term exposure to PM2.5 was associated with an increased risk of mortality (risk ratio, 1.11 [95% confidence interval, 1.02-1.21] per 1-μg/m3 increase in PM2.5) and ICU admission (risk ratio, 1.13 [95% confidence interval, 1.00-1.28] per 1-μg/m3 increase in PM2.5). In multivariable models, neither NO2 nor BC exposure was associated with COVID-19 mortality, ICU admission, or intubation. Conclusions: Among patients hospitalized with COVID-19, a higher long-term PM2.5 exposure level was associated with an increased risk of mortality and ICU admission.

Keywords: COVID-19 ICU admission; COVID-19 mortality; air pollution exposure; race- or ethnicity-specific effects.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Air Pollution / adverse effects*
  • COVID-19 / diagnosis
  • COVID-19 / epidemiology*
  • COVID-19 / therapy
  • Carbon / adverse effects
  • Critical Care
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Hospitalization
  • Humans
  • Intubation, Intratracheal
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • New York City
  • Nitrogen Dioxide / adverse effects
  • Particulate Matter / adverse effects
  • Respiration, Artificial
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Time Factors


  • Particulate Matter
  • Carbon
  • Nitrogen Dioxide