Urban pollutants and SARS-CoV-2 virus

    A multidisciplinary research reveals that atmospheric particulate matter emitted by engine exhaust inactivates SARS-CoV-2, but it has a negative impact on human health with implications for COVID-19 and other diseases


    Air pollution and associated particles affect environmental and human health. The intense use of vehicles and the high population density in urban areas are the main causes of this impact on public health. Epidemiological studies have provided evidence on the effect of air pollution on the transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and the prevalence and symptomatology of the COVID-19 disease. However, the causal relationship between air pollution and COVID-19 is still under investigation.

    A multidisciplinary collaboration of researchers from the Research Group in Health and Biotechnology (SaBio) of the Instituto de Investigación en Recursos Cinegéticos (IREC – CSIC, UCLM, JCCM), the School of Industrial and Aerospace Engineering of the UCLM, the Veterinary Health Surveillance Center (VISAVET) of the Complutense University of Madrid, the Research Institute on Combustion and Atmospheric Pollution (UCLM) and the CMT-Thermal Engines of the Polytechnic University of Valencia, has addressed the following issue: ¿How long does SARS-CoV-2 survive on the surface of pollution particles of different origin?

    On the left, one of the urban PM10 pollutant collectors used by the Combustion and Atmospheric Pollution Research Institute (UCLM). On the right, cell laboratory of the Veterinary Health Surveillance Center (VISAVET) of the Complutense University of Madrid.

    The aim was to evaluate the relationship between the use of fuels, atmospheric pollution and the risk of transmission of the virus. To do this, the persistence and viability of the SARS-CoV-2 virus was characterized on five types of particles from engine exhaust and four samples of PM10 air pollutant particles. The viability of the viruses after contact with the particles was confirmed by successive isolation attempts in cell cultures. The researchers also measured the cells' response to the various pollutants.

    The results showed that SARS-CoV-2 remains on the surface of PM10 particles of air pollutants. Consequently, elevated atmospheric levels of PM10 in cities may increase the risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission. Conversely, engine exhaust particles inactivate the virus.

    In addition, cell culture analyzes show that particulate matter from pollution, and especially from fuel, produces oxidative stress and affects immunity. Therefore, although the particulate matter in the fuel inactivates SARS-CoV-2 (the good side), the conclusion of the study is that both atmospheric and engine exhaust particulate matter have a negative impact on human health with implications for COVID-19 and other diseases (the bad side).

    Graphical abstract of the research work.

    The scientific publication of this research is available at: