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Allowed levels of air pollution are bad for the heart: confirmed

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Air pollution risk for heart disease confirmed

Scientists have confirmed that levels of air pollution considered acceptable are bad for heart health in findings that are to be presented October 12 to 14 at the Acute Cardiac Care Congress 2013.

Dr Savina Nodari from Brescia, Italy will present findings at the annual meeting of the Acute Cardiovascular Care Association (ACCA) of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC).

In a press release Nodari said "The European Union has set a PM10 safety threshold of 50 micrograms/m3. She adds "... but the negative effect of PM10 on the cardiovascular system may occur at levels lower than this cut off."

PM is particulate matter than can include ash, dust, smoke or vapors and other diverse ultra-fine or coarse particles that linger in the air for long periods of time. The EPA sends out alerts when PM10 levels reach 350 µg/m3 on a 24 hour average and a public warning when PM10 levels reach 420 µg/m3 on a 24 hour average. Public emergency alerts are issued at the level of 500 µg/m3.

Carbon particles from incomplete combustion of diesel fuel has raised much concern for rising air pollution levels as well as residential wood stoves, fireplaces, exhaust from fossil fuel burning power plants and vehicle emissions.

It's known that exposure to particulate matter affects the lungs adversely for 2 to 3 weeks, which is an important note as fall and winter approach and more homes will be burning wood.

Nodari also said "...the negative effect of air pollution continues to be an important public health problem", though recent findings show our air quality is improving somewhat.

Cardiovascular disease is only one of the health problems linked to high levels of fine particulate matter in our air.

The study

This time researchers looked at individuals who might be more susceptible to cardiovascular evens when air pollution levels are between PM10. They also confirmed that current standard contribute to heart related events which has been previously suggested in some U.S. and European studies.

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The researchers found higher rates of hospital admission at PM10 levels of pollution from acute cardiovascular events such as acute coronary syndromes, heart failure, worsening heart failure, paroxysmal atrial fibrillation and ventricular arrhythmias.

The finding came from data collected from Brescia, a highly industrialized area north of Italy.

Dr Nodari said in an e-mail press release shared with EmaxHealth: “Brescia is one of the most industrialised areas in the North of Italy and according to the European Environmental Agency it has average daily PM10 levels higher than the safety threshold of 50 micrograms/m3. This high level of air pollution is clearly having a bad effect on heart health.”

She adds air pollution at current standards may promote blood clotting and inflammation, which is supported by previous studies.

What the finding means

Baby boomers comprise the largest portion of the U.S. population. The finding highlights the importance of staying away from burning leaves, outdoor fires and finding cleaner sources than wood-burning stoves or fireplaces as heating options, especially if you have had a previous heart attack, stent, cardiac arrhythmia or bypass surgery.

Men working in industries that expose them to vapors and other types of combustion from vehicles should also take note that pollution is a definite risk for a first or repeat heart attack.

Improvements still needed

"Air pollution is a big problem because we can’t protect people if we are unable to improve the air quality where they live. To protect public health, national policies need to consider other sources of energy for cars, industry and domestic use which may include electricity, wind energy, photovoltaic systems or nuclear energy. Many people think nuclear energy is not a good alternative and I agree, but we have such high levels of air pollution now that we have to seriously look at the alternative options.”

The finding confirms air quality standards need improvement to protect the public - especially those over age 65 and men who were found to be especially susceptible to heart attack and arrhythmia from increases in air pollution.

Nordari says tightening air pollution standards to a lower level of PM10 would probably reduce the public risk of heart disease. You can also read more about how air pollution contributes to heart disease in this Physicians for Social Responsibility Report.