Air pollution causing more COVID-19 deaths



Even before the pandemic, Rhode Islanders were suffering a severe health crisis due to air pollutants. A 2013-2017 study by the RI Department of Health found that 10.9% of Rhode Island’s youth suffers from asthma, the 9th highest rate in the country. The study attributed this high rate to significant air pollution in the densely populated areas along the state’s I-95 corridor, areas that are predominantly communities of color.
Now that we are over six months into a pandemic, it is clear that poor air conditions are also causing more COVID-19 deaths. In an Emory University study, researchers discovered that those who have higher nitrogen dioxide (NO2) exposure are 11% more likely to die from COVID-19. NO2, a pollutant which is put into the atmosphere by cars, is potentially one of the reasons for our state’s high mortality rate.
With nearly 1 in 9 children with asthma and over 1,000 dead from a respiratory virus, caring for the air and for the environment should be on the forefront of people’s consciences. In “Laudato Si’,” Pope Francis states that protecting “God’s handiwork is … not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience” (217). Now, in the midst of so much suffering, is the time to support environmental policies that will make Rhode Island both healthier and more equitable.
The Senate has restarted negotiations on the American Energy Innovation Act, a bipartisan energy package that would regulate greenhouse gasses, promote energy affordability, and drive clean energy innovation. I urge Senators Whitehouse and Reed to support this legislation.

Jack Murphy, Providence