Environmental and Occupational Exposure to Toxic Industrial Chemicals and COVID-19: An Exploratory Analysis of United States Counties
33 Pages Posted: 13 Jul 2020
Date Written: July 1, 2020
Background: Several studies have linked air pollution to COVID-19 morbidity and mortality. A related issue, which has received less attention but is equally important, is how exposure to toxic chemicals used, produced, transported, and emitted by manufacturing and agricultural activities correlates with COVID-19. This study examines the association between toxic industrial chemicals and COVID-19 infection and fatality rates in the United States, considering relevant correlational pathways and dynamics.
Methods: The study uses statistical testing to assess how and to what extent toxic industrial chemicals correlate with COVID-19 infection and fatality rates at the county-level. We supplement the statistical analysis with visualization to gain additional insights on the patterns of association. For the analysis, we draw upon data from the Environmental Protection Agency's Toxic Release Inventory of industrial facilities in the United States and county-level COVID-19 data from relevant online sources.
Results: There is a significant association between toxic industrial chemicals and reported COVID-19 cases and fatality rates at the county-level. However, the strength, significance, and direction of the correlations vary depending on facility location and population level, industrial sector, type of chemical, and health effect. Chemical manufacturing, food manufacturing, wood product manufacturing, and petroleum manufacturing correlate the most with COVID-19. Possible ties between exposure to toxic industrial chemicals and COVID-19 include respiratory and immune-related factors; however, metabolic syndrome may be another possible correlation pathway. In these regards, disinfectants, antimicrobials, and solvents appear to be especially problematic. Rural areas are of particular concern because the occupational and environmental exposure to toxic industrial chemicals is high relative to the population.
Conclusion: Our study builds on and contributes to the growing literature on environmental contaminants and COVID-19. It offers new insight on how exposure to toxic industrial chemicals – in the workplace or in the community – might affect COVID-19 infection and fatality rates. The study also suggests several avenues for future research, including conducting a robust examination of the physiological connections between exposure to toxic industrial chemicals and COVID-19, as well as an examination of related environmental justice issues.
Note: Funding: None to declare
Declaration of Interest: None to declare
Keywords: COVID-19, toxic industrial chemicals, environmental pollution, occupational health, metabolic syndrome, disinfectants
JEL Classification: I1, I14, J81, Q53, Q56, R11, J24, J88, L38, P18, Q15
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation