News Release

Chronic exposure to air pollution may increase risks for ICU admission or death among COVID-19 patients, study finds

Peer-Reviewed Publication

The Mount Sinai Hospital / Mount Sinai School of Medicine

Hospitalized COVID-19 patients who had been chronically exposed in their neighborhoods to higher particulate matter—such as smoke, soot, and dirt—had increased risks for admission to the intensive care unit (ICU) and death compared to those without such exposure, Mount Sinai-led researchers reported in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine on December 8.

The finding adds to our understanding about environmental factors that increase the risks of COVID-19. The researchers noted that chronic air pollution exposure can alter the pulmonary immune system, may increase systemic inflammation, and can be associated with increased risk for cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome. COVID-19 infections and deaths have also disproportionately occurred among Black, Latinx, and Indigenous populations, as well as among individuals with risk factors based on sex, age, and existing comorbid diseases such as diabetes and obesity.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the forefront the critical role of the environment on health disparities. These data suggest that long-term exposure to air pollution, even at concentrations below U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulatory standards, is associated with higher COVID-19 morbidity and mortality amongst hospitalized patients,” said corresponding author Alison Lee, MD, MS, Assistant Professor of Medicine (Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine), and Pediatrics, at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “Critically, air pollution is a modifiable risk factor. Policies to reduce air pollution must be considered a necessary public health measure, especially in communities that are disproportionately susceptible to air pollution’s deleterious effects.”  

A team of researchers conducted a retrospective analysis of more than 6,500 COVID-19 patients admitted to seven New York City hospitals with ethnically diverse patient populations—including Mount Sinai Morningside, Mount Sinai Queens, NYC Health + Hospitals/Elmhurst, and NYC Health + Hospitals/Queens—amid the first peak of the pandemic from March to August 2020. The researchers estimated exposure levels to pollutants including particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, and black carbon at the residential addresses of the patients at the time of admission. The team then assessed patient outcomes including mortality, ICU admission, and intubation. They found that chronic exposure to particulate matter, even at levels below current regulatory thresholds, was associated with an 11 percent higher risk of mortality and 13 percent higher risk of admission to the ICU. Exploratory analyses suggested that younger people of color may be particularly susceptible.

The study was developed through participation in the COVID-19 Unit for Research at Elmhurst (CURE-19) partnership, an initiative by Mount Sinai’s Arnhold Institute for Global Health and NYC Health + Hospitals/Elmhurst and Queens to research the global pandemic and root causes of health disparities in New York City.

“There is a lot we still don’t know about coronavirus, and that is why initiatives like the CURE-19 partnership are of utmost importance in the fight against this pandemic and our continued recovery,” said co-author Stanley Pierre, MD, MPA, NYC Health + Hospitals/Queens Patient Safety Coordinator and Director of the Clinical Centers of Excellence Development Program.  “Being able to better understand what and how environmental factors play a role in New Yorkers’ health and COVID-19-associated risks not only allow us to better treat patients in the long-term, but also give us the opportunity to advocate for broader changes that can help prevent serious illness in the future.”

In addition to researchers from CURE-19, experts from Columbia University and the University of California, Berkeley contributed to the study. It was supported by grants from the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (R01MD013310), the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (P30ES023515, P30ES009089), the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (P2CHD058486), and the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (K23HL135349).

About the Mount Sinai Health System

The Mount Sinai Health System is New York City’s largest academic medical system, encompassing eight hospitals, a leading medical school, and a vast network of ambulatory practices throughout the greater New York region. Mount Sinai advances medicine and health through unrivaled education and translational research and discovery to deliver care that is the safest, highest-quality, most accessible and equitable, and the best value of any health system in the nation. The Health System includes approximately 7,300 primary and specialty care physicians; 13 joint-venture ambulatory surgery centers; more than 415 ambulatory practices throughout the five boroughs of New York City, Westchester, Long Island, and Florida; and more than 30 affiliated community health centers. The Mount Sinai Hospital is ranked on U.S. News & World Report’s “Honor Roll” of the top 20 U.S. hospitals and is top in the nation by specialty: No. 1 in Geriatrics and top 20 in Cardiology/Heart Surgery, Diabetes/Endocrinology, Gastroenterology/GI Surgery, Neurology/Neurosurgery, Orthopedics, Pulmonology/Lung Surgery, Rehabilitation, and Urology. New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai is ranked No. 12 in Ophthalmology. Mount Sinai Kravis Children's Hospital is ranked in U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Children’s Hospitals” among the country’s best in four out of 10 pediatric specialties. The Icahn School of Medicine is one of three medical schools that have earned distinction by multiple indicators: ranked in the top 20 by U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Medical Schools,” aligned with a U.S. News & World Report “Honor Roll” Hospital, and No. 14 in the nation for National Institutes of Health funding. Newsweek’s “The World’s Best Smart Hospitals” ranks The Mount Sinai Hospital as No. 1 in New York and in the top five globally, and Mount Sinai Morningside in the top 20 globally.

For more information, visit or find Mount Sinai on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.


Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.