Connect with us

Spread & Containment

Sorry, Diesel Prices Are Likely To Climb Again Soon

Sorry, Diesel Prices Are Likely To Climb Again Soon

By Rachel Premack of FreightWaves

For today’s MODES, I called up FreightWaves Editor-at-Large…



Sorry, Diesel Prices Are Likely To Climb Again Soon

By Rachel Premack of FreightWaves

For today’s MODES, I called up FreightWaves Editor-at-Large John Kingston to find out what the heck is happening with diesel prices recently. I learned a lot, but the most important takeaway was the World Oil Market Waterbed Theory.

This conversation was lightly edited and condensed for clarity.  

FREIGHTWAVES: Just to start off pretty broad, the macro conditions are pretty much the same from what we saw earlier this year to what’s happening now. Obviously, we haven’t built any new refineries in the past few months. There’s still a war in Ukraine. Why is it that future prices are going down, and maybe not as quickly, but retail gasoline and diesel prices are also going down?

KINGSTON: “It’s a good question because it’s not really clear. I think part of the reason is that the news reports continue to trickle out about Russia doing relatively well in finding new buyers for its crude oil. Whereas, the International Energy Agency had predicted a couple of months ago that the loss of Russian supplies was going to be about 3 million barrels a day, which is roughly about 3% of the world market — which is a lot when you lose that much supply. 

“I’m going to date myself with this reference, but it’s the best I can do. The world oil market is like a waterbed. If you push down one corner of the waterbed, the water moves throughout the entire mattress. If Russia is actually finding buyers for its oil that maybe had gone to Europe previously, but the oil is instead going to India or China, it’s the same as it getting out to its normal places. The world oil market is better supplied than it looked like it was going to be starting back around March or April. I think that’s very clearly a factor.”

Why diesel prices likely will rise again

KINGSTON: “When you look at what refineries are doing right now, they are running just full blast. One of the reasons, of course, is that the margins have been so strong. They are putting a lot of products onto the market, but let’s look forward a little bit, and I’m going to refer to the earnings call for Phillips 66

“The executive vice president for marketing and commercial is a guy named Brian Mandell. He was talking about diesel and he said, ‘Yeah, it’s down, but let’s look at a couple of things. Global inventories are still extremely tight. It’s summer, which is not the heavy diesel season.’ But as he said, ‘We’re getting near harvest season, and harvest season is important for diesel consumption for obvious reasons, and then right after that is winter.’

“He’s cautious about the idea that we’ve got some great drop in diesel markets as a result of various factors.

“Now, the question becomes, as we move ahead, does the price of crude rise overall? Does diesel drag up crude? There are times in oil market history where that most certainly happened. Or does diesel just strengthen against crude?”

“Looking at a very basic spread of the first month of the Brent crude price versus the price of ultra-low sulfur diesel on the market, it got up as high as $1.64 per gallon on May 2. [Tuesday], it was down about 58 cents. It’s been trending consistently. Over the last two weeks, it’s been about in the 40-to-50 cents range.  A year ago, the spread was 40 cents. OK, it’s starting back toward normalcy, but it’s still elevated and it’s coming off some amazingly high numbers.”

Europe’s natural gas crisis could mean a higher diesel prices in the U.S. 

KINGSTON: “Going forward, as we go toward the winter, we really have to watch whether you’ll see crude go up on its own. Will diesel drag up crude with it? Or will diesel just move higher than crude? 

“The world of diesel needs to look very closely at what happens with the whole Russian natural gas situation. When you don’t have enough natural gas, you inevitably turn to diesel or some kind of distillate as a substitute, whether it is for an industrial process [or] whether it’s to generate electricity, diesel can be a substitute for natural gas. 

“If the Russians really put the squeeze on Europe with natural gas, you’ll probably see buyers turn to distillate, whether it’s a pure diesel or some other distillate product, in its place. That’s very concerning. Obviously, there’s always a risk of a gas-for-oil substitution or oil-for-gas substitution, but it’s really high now, really strong.”

The pain at the pump shall continue. (Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

FREIGHTWAVES: What would that substitution do to the price of diesel, for example?

KINGSTON: “If you’ve got demand for energy out there that’s right now satisfied by natural gas, and instead that’s not available and they turn to diesel, that’s a new source of demand for diesel.”

FREIGHTWAVES: Diesel obviously has come down in price quite a bit in the past few weeks, but you don’t seem quite so certain that we’re out of the woods quite yet. 

KINGSTON: “No. Really the reason I say that is primarily because of inventories. They’re so low.” 

Here’s how to determine diesel prices on the futures market, if that’s something you were hoping to do  

KINGSTON: “There’s no one price of diesel on the futures market. There’s a price now for September. There’s a price for October. There’s a price for September 2023. It goes out several years, and that spread is not a prediction of where the price is going to be. It is a complex mix, a complex brew of inventories and interest rates. A market that is in perfect balance, the kind of thing they teach you in econ 101, that a market will rise over time. 

“The September commodity is X. In that perfectly balanced market, October will be X plus something. That something is a function really of the cost of storage and the cost of money, the time value of money. 

“When markets get very, very tight, like they are now, the market shifts into a structure known as ‘backwardation.’ In backwardation, it’s X for the first month, X minus something for the next month, X minus something even more for the next month after that. The reason is because with supply short, you absolutely want the front-month barrel. You want the most immediate supply right now. 

“The diesel market is in eye-popping backwardation right now. It’s not quite as crazy as it was. The highest number I’ve got here was $1.19 for the 12-month backwardation, meaning the front month versus 12 months out. I’ve got one number that got out to $2.14. I mean, it’s just nuts. Right now, it’s about 50 cents. A year ago on Aug. 3, the 12-month curve was 7 cents.”

FREIGHTWAVES: These are some crazy numbers, for sure.

KINGSTON: “It wasn’t backwardation. The market’s been a little tight for a while, but if you go back to as recently as April of last year, the market was in the structure known as ‘contango.’ That’s what I talked about before, where the price goes up every month, and that’s usually a sign of a fairly well-supplied market. This really steep backwardation in the market, yes, it continues to have me concerned because the market doesn’t.”

How to turn crude into diesel (a new hobby?)

FREIGHTWAVES: How does the diesel refining world compare to the tightness we’ve been seeing on the gasoline refining side? And as a secondary question to that, is there a certain type of crude that refineries prefer when it comes to refining diesel versus refining gasoline? 

KINGSTON: “Every grade of crude performs differently in a refinery. For a real refinery, their model will show that crude type X will yield, in their particular refinery, a small percentage of LPGs (liquefied petroleum gases), like butane and propane, a small percentage of naphtha and a small percentage of intermediate products that we don’t really recognize. They know exactly what type of crudes will do particularly well to make diesel or to make gasoline. 

“If the market’s right, they’ll look to make heavy fuel oil. They’ve tended not to try to do that in recent years, but they will try to maximize their output. They can’t do it precisely. It’s not like you can plug in numbers and say, ‘OK, I’d like to get 35.1% diesel out of this crude oil. 

“The fact of the matter is, it’s tough for any crude to yield more than 40% diesel. That’s your maximum. 

“As the world looks to consume more diesel, relative to gasoline, if that is in fact the way we’re going, that’s a problem. You cannot stand in front of a refinery and demand that it produce nothing but diesel because we don’t want gasoline right now. You’re always going to get some. 

“This imprecision is why we import and export products because some refineries have more diesel than their system needs. Some refineries have more gasoline. Some markets need more diesel than their local refiners produce, so it’s easier to import it rather than to bring it into the U.S. [or] rather than to bring it from somewhere else in the U.S. Refineries are amazingly complex products, but they are not perfect. They’re only so precise.You do get these imbalances, and the imbalances can only really be met by importing or exporting.”

Truck stops have seen unprecedented profits from high diesel prices — but it’s not as sinister as it may appear

FREIGHTWAVES: I want to talk a little bit more about what you mentioned before I turned on the recorder about this idea that truck stops are making so much money right now, so much profit off of diesel and the fact that retail diesel prices have been so much higher than wholesale. Why is it that the decline in diesel prices haven’t been keeping up with wholesale prices? A skeptical reader is going to see that and think, “OK, these truck stops are just trying to profit off of us.” What’s going on behind the scenes?

KINGSTON: “The way the market works is that there’s futures trading. It builds up in four steps. I’m going to oversimplify here. 

“There’s future trading, A, and then B, there is physical trading in individual markets (such as the Gulf Coast, the Atlantic Coast and New York Harbor). It might be traded as, in the Gulf Coast, ULSD minus 3 cents one day, then minus three and a half cents the next day, whatever.

“Then, those spot market prices are used as the basis for setting wholesale prices. Wholesale prices serve as the basis for what the retailers pay.

“Then, there’s the retail prices, which are set by the individual station owner, not the oil companies. When the market shoots up rapidly, as it has done, obviously, over the past several months, the wholesale prices shoot up with it. Wholesale will track futures prices pretty closely. Not necessarily one for one but pretty close to one to one. 

“When those prices shoot up, it’s difficult for the retailers to keep up. They’re a little nervous about going up all the way, because what if the guy across the street, maybe he’s not going to go up all the way and then I’m going to lose business. It’s real street combat.

“Similarly, when the prices are up there and the wholesale numbers start coming down rapidly, as they’ve done now for really a month, they’re going to hold on to those prices as long as they can. Now, as soon as the guy across the street says, ‘I think I can grab some market share. I got a new, cheaper load from my supplier, and I think I can grab some market share from that jerk across the street by lowering my prices and then I’ll get more people who are going to come into my convenience store and buy beef jerky and all this other stuff,’ then the guy across the street has to go too. He has to move too.

“It’s always going to be slower because it’s probably just a natural economic resistance to lowering your price. 

One international shipping regulation is quietly pushing up diesel prices

KINGSTON: “In 2019, in the oil market and at FreightWaves, we were writing quite a bit about IMO 2020. IMO 2020 is the worldwide regulation that went into effect that required all ships to burn fuel with no more than 0.5% sulfur. This was significantly restrictive. 

“One of the ways that the marine fuel market was going to get there was to produce a new product called very-low-sulfur fuel oil, VLSFO. That’s a product that really didn’t exist before. “The way that they were going to make it is that they were going to use a lot of something called vacuum gas oil. Vacuum gas oil is an intermediate product that comes off the crude tower, which is the first thing you do in a refinery. You throw crude into the crude tower, you get all these intermediate products and then you further process them into final products. 

“The problem is that vacuum gas oil tends to go into making diesel. The fear was always that you were going to divert VGO into making marine VLSFO. This is a whole new source of demand. You were going to tighten up the diesel market in the process

“There were some signs in the fall of 2019 that maybe the diesel market was starting to tighten up. There was a view out there that maybe this was the early signs of IMO 2020. IMO 2020 goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2020. By March 1, the world’s in a full-blown pandemic. Demand craters, and the test of the theories of the diesel market tightening because of IMO 2020 never really got tested because demand had collapsed.

“Now, of course, demand has come roaring back, and there are some views out there that one of the reasons you’re seeing such strength in the diesel market is because of IMO 2020. It just didn’t announce itself on a single day the way it’s supposed to do the first time.”

FREIGHTWAVES: That’s a potential under-the-radar driver of the tightness in diesel right now, it seems.

KINGSTON: “I mean, let’s just say that it wasn’t under the radar in 2019. Everybody talked about it.”

Diesel inventory remains low, and scheduled refinery “turnarounds” won’t help boost stores

FREIGHTWAVES: What will it take to restock diesel inventories?

KINGSTON: “It’s hard to say because refineries have been running on full blast now for a while. Just in the U.S. over the last four weeks, the utilization has been between 94.5% and 95%, which is a really healthy number. It’s dropped a little bit since then. 

“We’re coming up to what’s known as turnaround season, where you have regularly scheduled maintenance. They have turnarounds in September and October to get ready for winter and then they do turnarounds. They don’t turnaround every refinery, but then there’ll be turnarounds, let’s say, in March and April getting ready for summer. 

“We were at 95% on the week of June 24. We’re down to 92.2%. We’re getting toward the fall, where it’s inevitably going to slide.

“The refining margins are not as great as they were a few weeks ago. They’re still healthy, but they’re not as good. That creates a little less incentive to produce a lot of product. Inventories can turn around relatively quickly with a change in conditions, but you’d have to have a lot of new supply, margins that really incentivize price, and a drop in demand. Otherwise, it’s going to take a little while to get inventory back, and I still think that’s going to be the primary driving factor in price.”

Goodbye gasoline, long live diesel! 

FREIGHTWAVES: I’ve got one more big-picture, long-term question. We’re seeing an increasing adoption of passenger cars. Obviously, finding an electric tractor-trailer is not quite as seamless as buying a Chevy Bolt or a Tesla. Do you think that in the next 10 to 20 years that diesel demand will be more resilient than gasoline demand — or is this an oversimplification?

KINGSTON: “I think you’re right. I think that most refiners are probably looking at the idea that their diesel demand will stay a little more stable. It’s probably less subject to disruption. I think that’s very legitimate. I think that’s in the long-term calculations of a lot of companies – no doubt about it.”

Tyler Durden Thu, 08/04/2022 - 17:00

Read More

Continue Reading

Spread & Containment

California Hospital Refuses Transplant Surgery For Unvaccinated Woman With End-Stage Kidney Disease

California Hospital Refuses Transplant Surgery For Unvaccinated Woman With End-Stage Kidney Disease

Authored by Allan Stein via The Epoch…



California Hospital Refuses Transplant Surgery For Unvaccinated Woman With End-Stage Kidney Disease

Authored by Allan Stein via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours),

Even on a good day, Linda Garinger of Ramona, California, thinks about dying.

Linda Garinger (L), who has end-stage kidney disease, and her daughter Emily Lewis read the letter from a hospital denying Garinger a kidney transplant operation because she won't get a COVID-19 vaccine. (Allan Stein/The Epoch Times)

Since she went on kidney dialysis two years ago, she’s had a heart attack and a cardiac episode associated with her thrice-weekly treatments.

Her energy is low as her other vital organs slowly fail. Her blood pressure is out of control—hovering at around 200 systolic over “100-something”diastolic whenever she undergoes dialysis.

Garinger feels it’s only a matter of time before her next heart attack, which could prove fatal unless she gets a new kidney.

Linda Garinger, 68, of Ramona, Calif., looks out her living room window on March 13, 2023. (Allan Stein/The Epoch Times)

The dialysis is very stressful on me. My vision is going. My hair is falling out. I’ve got skin cancer,” said Garinger, 68. “They said it’s from the dialysis not filtering out all the bad stuff.

“My biggest fear is I’ll have a heart attack during dialysis. I’m just going downhill right now.”

In 2022, Garinger was eagerly waiting for a kidney transplant at Sharp Memorial Hospital in San Diego, having found a good organ match in her daughter, the doctors told her.

But, “I needed [the transplant] like two years ago,” Garinger said.

Early last May, Garinger received an unexpected letter from the hospital saying she was no longer on the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) waitlist for a kidney transplant.

“The reason for this status change is you have not had your COVID vaccines,” read the May 6, 2022, letter Garinger shared with The Epoch Times.

“Once this situation is remedied, you will be evaluated for re-activation on the transplant waitlist.”

Garinger did not appeal the hospital’s decision. She knew “in her gut” her unvaccinated status would always be a problem.

Still, she put her faith in Sharp Memorial, only to be put through tests, medical procedures, and consultations at a substantial cost to Medicare.

“The whole time, they knew I wasn’t vaccinated and that [my daughter] wasn’t vaccinated. They would always ask me, ‘Why don’t you want to get a vaccine?'”

“I was pretty adamant,” said Garinger. “I didn’t want to take anything that was still experimental.”

She remembered her good friend who died two weeks after receiving a COVID shot. “She lived right over here, on the other side [of the street],” Garinger said.

Garinger said she was fortunate to find another hospital nearby that would operate without her taking the vaccine.

Starting All Over

The challenge now is the time it will take to complete all the required paperwork and preliminary procedures, the time it will take to get on a waitlist for a kidney donor, and the time it will take to find a donor.

She fears her time will run out before then.

One sympathetic doctor said, ‘Linda, you could drop over dead. Your heart could stop.’ So, I have to watch what I eat, and on the days I don’t do dialysis, I take this powder that tastes like gritty sand” to remove the excess potassium from her body.

Garinger finds herself among many people who need an organ transplant but are up against a medical system still adhering to vaccine protocols in many facilities.

In a 2021 Healio transplantation survey, 60 percent of the 141 transplant centers that responded did not require a COVID-19 injection before surgery. The survey sample represented just over 56 percent of the transplant centers in the United States.

Jeffrey Childers, a commercial attorney based in Gainesville, Florida, served clients facing COVID-19 mandates at hospitals and medical clinics during the pandemic.

He said Garinger’s case reflects the “COVID mania” that permeated the medical establishment beginning in 2020.

“This was an ugly manifestation of the COVID management regime that popped up,” Childers said. “All the cases get a lot of attention because people are horrified. But the transplant people will say they have limited resources, only get so many organs each year, and we have to give them to people with the best survival chances. They’ll hide behind that forever.”

Life-and-Death Decisions

Childers said health care facilities still have tremendous discretionary power to make critical decisions concerning COVID-19 vaccines.

“To see these kinds of life-and-death bureaucratic powers wielded by people who are not motivated by the science but—something else—is horrifying,” Childers said.

“I’ve run into it a handful of times in Florida. The law that applies is state dependent. The folks who manage those donor lists and the assignments have a lot of discretion.

“It’s even more appalling it’s happening now so late in the pandemic when the mandates are gone. You can’t find a single person who says they regret not taking the vaccine. But you can find tons going the other way.”

Childers said pro-vaccine advocates argue that an unvaccinated recipient is much more likely to die from COVID-19 following transplant surgery than a vaccinated patient.

I don’t know the official line anymore,” he told The Epoch Times. “[The vaccine] doesn’t stop you from dying. It doesn’t stop you from getting sick.”

One study in the November 2022 MDPI, a Switzerland-based publisher of open-access scientific journals, claimed that over 60 days, the death rate among unvaccinated kidney transplant patients was 11.2 percent at the time of COVID-19 infection.

The study found the death rate among the vaccinated was 2.2 percent. More than two-thirds of the 144 patients in the study received a kidney transplant.

By contrast, a study published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine in September 2022 found that some cornea transplant patients rejected the grafts after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine.

In some cases, the rejection took place 20 years after the procedure.

Childers believes the science generally does not support the notion that unvaccinated transplant recipients are at an increased risk of dying from COVID-19.

The argument is always don’t give an organ to a person who is living some kind of lifestyle that is risky or increases the risk of dying from something else,” Childers told The Epoch Times.

“That’s the logic they’re applying to this. They’re essentially saying by not taking the vaccine, [transplant patients] are at higher risk of dying from COVID. So they don’t want to give an organ to somebody at high risk voluntarily.”

Ohio attorney Warner Mendenhall, representing clients in vaccine mandate cases, said he knows at least 60 organ transplant denial suits working through the medical freedom group Liberty Counsel.

Each case involves a client refusing to take the COVID-19 vaccine required for transplant surgery.

“We’re seeing [transplant denials] at many hospitals across the country,” Mendenhall said.

And while the medical establishment remains split on the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 injections, some “medical people are concerned about clotting and other issues that occur with the vaccinated.”

“Especially if you’ve got liver and kidney problems and need that type of transfer, you don’t want to be vaccinated before the transplant. That’s my understanding,” Mendenhall said.

A ‘Fiduciary Responsibility’ to Patients

Often, the unvaccinated transplant patient has maintained a longstanding medical relationship with the hospital or clinic without issue before the COVID-19 vaccine rollouts.

For this reason, Mendenhall believes there is a “fiduciary relationship that the hospitals engage in with a transplant patient.” To break that obligation would be “a real breach of that fiduciary responsibility to them.”

According to the Chronic Disease Research Group, an estimated 37 million people in the United States have kidney disease in varying stages.

About 1 million Americans are in the end stages of the disease. At the same time, 550,000 undergo kidney dialysis to remove excess toxins from the blood because their kidneys cannot perform this function.

The average wait time for a kidney transplant in the United States is three to five years at most health facilities, but it’s longer in some parts of the country, according to

“It is best to explore transplant before you need to start dialysis. This way, you might be able to get a transplant ‘preemptively,’ before you need dialysis,” the organization’s website states.

“It takes time to find the right transplant center for you, to complete the transplant evaluation, to get on the transplant waitlist for a deceased donor, or to find a living kidney donor if you can.”

Garinger said she is in terminal Stage 5 of her kidney disease and needs dialysis almost every other day to stay alive.

“I’m pissed off,” said Garinger, who gets short of breath just walking to the kitchen.

I can’t walk to Costco or a grocery store now. My muscles—I get out of wind so easily. I can’t walk down to my chickens anymore.

Her daughter Emily Lewis, 35, is a recent medical assistant program graduate and is now her mother’s live-in caretaker as she waits for a kidney transplant.

“I put my life on hold because [of my mother],” Lewis said, although she has no regrets.

With her career in limbo, Lewis said she is angry at the injustice of the COVID-19 mandates while doubting the shots even work.

Linda Garinger, who has end-stage kidney disease, goes through her medicines on March 13, 2023. (Allan Stein/The Epoch Times)

“Everyone I know who’s COVID vaccinated has had it four or five times. I’ve had it zero,” Lewis told The Epoch Times.

Denied access to the kidney wait list at Sharp Memorial, Garinger found that the University of California San Diego Medical Center was willing to perform the kidney transplant surgery.

But the longer it takes to find a kidney donor, the more likely it is that she won’t make it back to a more normal life.

She characterized her relationship with her doctors at Sharp Memorial as adversarial since she opposed taking the COVID-19 vaccine under any circumstances.

She remembered one doctor in Ramona who kept “pressuring me” about the vaccine.

He said, “What will you do if you get COVID? What if you catch COVID and you have to go to the hospital?’

“Well,” she told him. “I have this protocol on my fridge—vitamins C and D. I have ivermectin. Number one: I won’t go to the hospital. It’s a death sentence there.”

“I guess you know more than me,'” the doctor said as he stood up and left the room.

“I didn’t know I had an adversary” or that “I was an evil person. I just had a gut feeling they would deny me [a kidney] because they kept pressuring me about the shot.”

“They did the same thing with me,” Emily said.

‘Why Aren’t You Vaccinated?’

At one point, Garinger demanded data showing the vaccine’s side effects.

“There was none,” she said. “It came down to the last final interview with the surgeon. All he could ask me was, ‘Why aren’t you vaccinated? Why don’t you want to get vaccinated?'”

“I don’t have COVID,” Garinger said. “[Emily] doesn’t have COVID. Another thing they told me was we were a [donor] match. And then I got to UCSD, and the bloodwork showed she was not a match.”

Sharp Memorial did not respond to a request for comment from The Epoch Times. UCSD Medical Center did not return an email seeking comment.

New Orleans attorney David Dalia said Garinger’s case seems to be medical “discrimination.”

They are discriminating against her based on her vaccination status,” he said.

During the pandemic, Dalia worked on vaccine mandate cases with Frontline doctors, filing amicus briefs on behalf of 1.5 million federal employees who refused to take a COVID-19 vaccine by order of President Joe Biden.

“The truth is [Garinger] has a lot better chance of living than a vaccinated person. We can back that up. They’re viewing it as sort of a disability.

“Well, that’s a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. And federal law specifically says all experimental use authorization drugs are strictly voluntary and subject to informed consent.”

Dalia said informed consent is “never coerced.”

As Garinger works through the intake process at UCSD Medical Center, she has good, bad, and “hell” days.

“I sit in a chair all day,” said Garinger, who ran a successful foreclosure business before she retired due to her illness. “[Emily] helps me do cooking. She does all the chopping and stuff. I have a chair in the kitchen. I walk to the kitchen and start cooking. I don’t do much. My gardening is on hold—everything is on hold. My muscles are gone. I use electric carts to go to Costco. I can’t do anything. I’m out of breath. It sucks.”

“Every part of my body is deteriorating. So, I’m on hold until I get a kidney.”

Just as painful are the times people call her “evil ” because she refuses to take an mRNA vaccine for COVID-19.

“You’re going to give [COVID] to everybody,” they tell her. “You’re evil for not getting vaccinated.”

“That’s how I felt,” Garinger told The Epoch Times.

She said another fear is receiving a kidney from a vaccinated donor, with unknown health effects, since there is no way to determine which donor is vaccinated and which one is not.

Feeling her time is growing short, Garinger said she is still determined to keep fighting in the time she has left.

“I’ve got to get this done. Every day there’s something else going wrong with me because my kidneys are gone,” Garinger said.

Tyler Durden Mon, 03/20/2023 - 18:20

Read More

Continue Reading

Spread & Containment

Air pollution can increase the risk of COVID infection and severe disease – a roundup of what we know

Air pollution can increase COVID risk by weakening our immune defences and exacerbating underlying health conditions.




Tatiana Grozetskaya/Shutterstock

The early part of the COVID pandemic led to a significant reduction in air pollution in many parts of the world. With lockdowns, travel restrictions and decreased economic activity, there was a noticeable drop in the emission of air pollutants, such as nitrogen dioxide (NO₂) and particulate matter (PM) that is fine enough to be inhaled.

Changes in air pollution varied depending on the location and the type of pollutant, but reductions were particularly noticeable in cities and industrial areas, where emissions from transport and industrial activities are typically high. In many areas though, air pollution levels quickly increased again as restrictions eased and activity resumed.

Along with having harmful effects on the environment, it’s well established that air pollution can have negative effects on human health, including increasing the risk of respiratory and heart problems and cancers. Emerging research suggests air pollution may also affect the brain and be linked to certain developmental issues in babies. The severity of these health effects can depend on the type and concentration of pollutants, as well as individual factors that affect a person’s susceptibility.

While there has been much focus on the way the pandemic affected air quality, it has also become apparent that air quality affects COVID risk – both in terms of the likelihood of contracting COVID and how sick people get with the infection.

How does air quality increase COVID risk?

Research has shown that long-term exposure to air pollution, particularly fine particulate matter under 2.5 micrometres (PM2.5) and NO₂, may increase the risk of COVID infection, hospitalisation, and death.

A study in England, for example, showed long-term exposure to PM2.5 and NO₂ is associated with 12% and 5% increases in COVID cases, respectively, for every additional microgram of PM2.5 or NO₂ per cubic metre of air.

One of the primary ways that air pollution may increase the risk of COVID is by weakening the respiratory system’s defences against viral infections. We know long-term exposure to fine particulate matter that is inhaled can reduce the lungs’ immune responses and cause damage to them, which can make people more vulnerable to respiratory infections like COVID.

Read more: Long COVID linked to air pollution exposure in young adults – new study

Air pollution can also impact the immune system’s ability to fight off viral infections. Exposure to particulate matter, such as PM2.5, has been linked to increased levels of cytokines and inflammation in the body.

Cytokines are signalling molecules that help the immune system fight infections. But high levels can cause a “cytokine storm”, where the immune system overreacts and attacks healthy cells in addition to the virus. Cytokine storms have been associated with severe COVID and a higher likelihood of dying from the disease.

And notably, COVID binds to ACE2 receptors to enter a cell. In studies of animals, PM2.5 exposure has been linked to a significant increase in ACE2 receptors. PM2.5 may therefore increase the probability of COVID entering cells in humans.

A crowd of people walking a New York street wearing masks.
There are a variety of factors which could explain why air pollution increases COVID risk. blvdone/Shutterstock

Further, air pollution may increase the severity of COVID symptoms by exacerbating underlying health conditions. Exposure to air pollution has been linked to increased rates of conditions such as diabetes and heart disease, which have been identified as risk factors for severe COVID.

Air pollution may also increase COVID transmission rates by acting as a carrier for the virus. Researchers continue to debate the potential of respiratory droplets from infected people attaching to particulate matter in the air and travelling long distances, potentially increasing the virus’s spread.

How can I reduce exposure to air pollutants?

With all this in mind, reducing air pollution levels may be an important strategy for mitigating the impact of COVID and protecting public health.

This requires a combination of individual actions and collective efforts to address the sources of pollution. There are several ways you can decrease your and others’ exposure to air pollution, including:

Limit outdoor activity during high-pollution days. Check air quality forecasts and limit outdoor activities on “high” days. Try to go outside at times of the day when pollution levels are lower, such as early morning or late evening.

Think about your mode of transport. Using public transport, walking or riding a bike instead of driving can help to reduce pollution levels. If you do drive, try to carpool or use an electric or hybrid vehicle.

Read more: Wuhan's lockdown cut air pollution by up to 63% – new research

Use indoor air filters. Having air filters in your home can help reduce indoor pollution levels. Hepa filters can remove many pollutants, including fine particulate matter. Further, the use of Hepa air systems can successfully filter COVID virus particles from the air.

Samuel J. White advises on air quality and receives funding from Fédération Equestre Internationale.

Philippe B. Wilson does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Read More

Continue Reading


Climate damage is worsening faster than expected, but there’s still reason for optimism – 4 essential reads on the IPCC report

The final report in the IPCC’s sixth assessment series says countries will have to cut their greenhouse gas emissions 60% in the next 12 years to keep…



Wildfires are becoming a greater risk in many countries as the landscape dries. Michael Nigro/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

Reading the latest international climate report can feel overwhelming. It describes how rising temperatures caused by increasing greenhouse gas emissions from human activities are having rapid, widespread effects on the weather, climate and ecosystems in every region of the planet, and it says the risks are escalating faster than scientists expected.

Global temperatures are now 1.1 degree Celsius (2 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than at the start of the industrial era. Heat waves, storms, fires and floods are harming humans and ecosystems. Hundreds of species have disappeared from regions as temperatures rise, and climate change is causing irreversible changes to sea ice, oceans and glaciers. In some areas, it’s becoming harder to adapt to the changes.

Still, there are reasons for optimism – falling renewable energy costs are starting to transform the power sector, for example, and the use of electric vehicles is expanding. But the change isn’t happening fast enough, and the window for a smooth transition is closing fast, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report warns. To keep global warming below 1.5 C (2.7 F), it says global greenhouse gas emissions will have to drop 60% by 2035 compared with 2019 levels.

That’s 12 years from now.

Heat map shows how temperatures have changed and what they look like under different scenarios going foward.
The extent to which current and future generations will experience a hotter world depends on choices made now and in the coming years. The scenarios show expected differences in temperature depending on how high emissions are going forward. IPCC sixth assessment report

In the new report, released March 20, 2023, the IPCC summarizes the findings from a series of reports written over the past eight years by hundreds of scientists who reviewed the latest evidence and research.

Here are four essential reads by some of the co-authors of those reports, each providing a different snapshot of the transformational changes underway.

1. More intense storms and flooding

A line of rescue workers in bright vests and hard hats walks in waist-deep water on a flooded street, pulling a raft. Water is up to the mailbox they're passing.
A volunteer fire company assists with evacuation efforts following a flash flood in Helmetta, New Jersey, in August 2021. Tom Brenner / AFP via Getty Images

Many of the most shocking natural disasters of the past few years have involved intense rainfall and flooding.

In Europe, a storm in 2021 set off landslides and sent rivers rushing through villages that had stood for centuries. In 2022, about a third of Pakistan was underwater, and several U.S. communities were hit with extreme flash flooding.

The IPCC warns in the sixth assessment report that the water cycle will continue to intensify as the planet warms. That includes extreme monsoon rainfall, but also increasing drought, greater melting of mountain glaciers, decreasing snow cover and earlier snowmelt, wrote UMass-Lowell climate scientist Mathew Barlow, a co-author of the assessment report examining physical changes.

World maps show precipitation increasing in higher latitudes, but not everywhere.
Annual average precipitation is projected to increase in many areas as the planet warms, particularly in the higher latitudes. IPCC sixth assessment report

“An intensifying water cycle means that both wet and dry extremes and the general variability of the water cycle will increase, although not uniformly around the globe,” Barlow wrote.

“Understanding this and other changes in the water cycle is important for more than preparing for disasters. Water is an essential resource for all ecosystems and human societies.”

Read more: The water cycle is intensifying as the climate warms, IPCC report warns – that means more intense storms and flooding

2. The longer the delay, the higher the cost

A pedicab driver looks over at an SUV making waves as both drive through knee-high water.
Extreme rainfall filled streets in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in July 2020. Flooding has become common in many South Asia cities. Munir Uz zaman / AFP via Getty Images

The IPCC stressed in its reports that human activities are unequivocally warming the planet and causing rapid changes in the atmosphere, oceans and icy regions of the world.

“Countries can either plan their transformations, or they can face the destructive, often chaotic transformations that will be imposed by the changing climate,” wrote Edward Carr, a Clark University scholar and co-author of the IPCC report focused on adaptation.

The longer countries wait to respond, the greater the damage and cost to contain it. One estimate from Columbia University put the cost of adaptation needed just for urban areas at between US$64 billion and $80 billion a year – and the cost of doing nothing at 10 times that level by mid-century.

“The IPCC assessment offers a stark choice,” Carr wrote. “Does humanity accept this disastrous status quo and the uncertain, unpleasant future it is leading toward, or does it grab the reins and choose a better future?”

Read more: Transformational change is coming to how people live on Earth, UN climate adaptation report warns: Which path will humanity choose?

3. Transportation is a good place to start

3 EV's parked in a garage and charging.
Electric vehicle sales have been accelerating, and new tax incentives and state zero-emissions requirements are expected to boost sales even more. Michael Fousert/Unsplash, CC BY

One crucial sector for reducing greenhouse gas emissions is transportation.

Cutting greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by mid-century, a target considered necessary to keep global warming below 1.5 C, will require “a major, rapid rethinking of how people get around globally,” wrote Alan Jenn, a transportation scholar at the University of California Davis and co-author on the IPCC report dealing with mitigation.

There are positive signs. Battery costs for electric vehicles have fallen, making them increasingly affordable. In the U.S., the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act offers tax incentives that lower the costs for EV buyers and encourage companies to ramp up production. And several states are considering following California’s requirement that all new cars and light trucks be zero-emissions by 2035.

Charts showing falling costs and rising adoption
Costs have fallen for key forms of renewable energy and EV batteries, and adoption of these technologies is rising. IPCC sixth assessment report

“Behavioral and other systemic changes will also be needed to cut greenhouse gas emissions dramatically from this sector,” Jenn wrote.

For example, many countries saw their transportation emissions drop during COVID-19 as more people were allowed to work from home. Bike sharing in urban areas, public transit-friendly cities and avoiding urban sprawl can help cut emissions even further. Aviation and shipping are more challenging to decarbonize, but efforts are underway.

He adds, however, that it’s important to remember that the effectiveness of electrifying transportation ultimately depends on cleaning up the electricity grid.

Read more: Revolutionary changes in transportation, from electric vehicles to ride sharing, could slow global warming – if they’re done right, IPCC says

4. Reasons for optimism

A man installs solar panels on a roof.
Solar panels have become increasingly common on homes, businesses and parking lots as prices have fallen. Ben McCanna/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

The IPCC reports discuss several other important steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including shifting energy from fossil fuels to renewable sources, making buildings more energy efficient and improving food production, as well as ways to adapt to changes that can no longer be avoided.

There are reasons for optimism, wrote Robert Lempert and Elisabeth Gilmore, co-authors on the IPCC’s report focused on mitigation.

“For example, renewable energy is now generally less expensive than fossil fuels, so a shift to clean energy can often save money,” they wrote. Electric vehicle costs are falling. Communities and infrastructure can be redesigned to better manage natural hazards such as wildfires and storms. Corporate climate risk disclosures can help investors better recognize the hazards and push those companies to build resilience and reduce their climate impact.

“The problem is that these solutions aren’t being deployed fast enough,” Lempert and Gilmore wrote. “In addition to pushback from industries, people’s fear of change has helped maintain the status quo.” Meeting the challenge, they said, starts with embracing innovation and change.

Read more: Climate change will transform how we live, but these tech and policy experts see reason for optimism

Editor’s note: This story is a roundup of articles from The Conversation’s archives.

Read More

Continue Reading