A recent research project led by the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health reportedly found that Los Angeles County neighborhoods with poor air quality had the highest coronavirus death rates. The research team focused on exposure to traffic-related air pollution.


The research — “Spatial Analysis of COVID-19 and Traffic-Related Air Pollution in Los Angeles“ — and its findings could imply a potentially large association between exposure to air pollution and population-level rates of COVID-19 cases and deaths, according to Dr. Michael Jerrett, a Fielding School professor of environmental health sciences and the project’s leader. “These findings are especially important for targeting interventions aimed at limiting the impact of COVID-19 in polluted communities.”  


As aforementioned, one of the key findings in the research was the fact that neighborhoods with the worst air quality in Los Angeles County saw a 60% increase in COVID-19 fatalities, compared with communities with the best air quality.


Co-author Jonah M. Lipsitt, a researcher with the Fielding School’s UCLA Center for Healthy Climate Solutions, explained: “In the U.S., more polluted communities often have lower incomes and higher proportions of Black and Latinx people. In addition, Black and Latinx people have higher rates of pre-existing conditions, potentially further exacerbating the risk of COVID-19 transmission and death. The elevated risk of case incidence and mortality observed in these populations may result, in part, from higher exposure to air pollution.”


Formed by a team from UCLA’s Fielding School, UC Berkeley and UC Merced, the researchers analyzed the relationship of air pollution and COVID-19 case incidence, and the mortality and case-fatality rates in neighborhoods of Los Angeles County. They focused on nitrogen dioxide because the pollutant serves as a marker for traffic-related air pollution (TRAP).


TRAP is associated with many respiratory morbidities, including asthma, chronic pulmonary disease, lung cancer, and respiratory tract infections, as well as hospitalizations, mortality, and an increased risk of respiratory viral infection, as explained by Dr. Yifang Zhu, FSPH professor of environmental health sciences and senior associate dean for academic programs. “Nitrogen dioxide, for example, has been found to impair the function of alveolar macrophages and epithelial cells, thereby increasing the risk of lung infections,” he said.


Los Angeles County is home to more than 10 million people, which represents a population larger than 40 U.S. states.


But affecting COVID-19 patients was not the only problem traffic-related pollution did this past year. Not even the coronavirus pandemic and the quarantine that resulted from it were enough to unseat transportation as the leading source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. Despite meteoric drops in vehicle miles travelled, transportation-related emissions were still the country’s single biggest driver of climate change in 2020. In order to achieve climate targets, the U.S. must significantly reduce its use of cars altogether. 

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Neama Rahmani is the President and co-founder of West Coast Trial Lawyers.

Neama graduated from UCLA at the age of 19 and Harvard Law School at the age of 22, making him one of the youngest graduates in the 200-year history of the…

Neama Rahmani is the President and co-founder of West Coast Trial Lawyers.

Neama graduated from UCLA at the age of 19 and Harvard Law School at the age of 22, making him one of the youngest graduates in the 200-year history of the law school. Upon graduation, Neama was hired by O’Melveny & Myers, the largest law firm in Los Angeles, where he represented companies such as Disney, Marriott, and the Roman Catholic Church.

But Neama wanted to help ordinary people, not corporations, so he joined the United States Attorney’s Office, where he prosecuted drug and human trafficking cases along the United States-Mexico border. While working as a federal prosecutor, Neama captured and successfully prosecuted a fugitive murderer and drug kingpin who had terrorized Southern California and was featured on “America’s Most Wanted.” Neama was then appointed to be the Director of Enforcement of the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission, an independent watchdog that oversees and investigates the elected officials and highest level employees of the City of Los Angeles, including the Mayor and City Council. He held that position until becoming a trial lawyer for the people.

Neama has extensive trial experience. He has led teams of more than 170 attorneys in litigation against the largest companies in the world. Neama has successfully tried dozens of cases to verdict as lead trial counsel, and has argued before both state and federal appeals courts. Over the course of his career, Neama has handled thousands of cases as attorney of record and has helped his clients obtain more than $1 billion in settlements and judgments.