Air pollution is harmful on so many levels for all of us, (See recent Dec.post on harmful air pollution effects on pregnancy.) From Reuters Health:
Air pollution should be one of the avoidable heart risk factors - just like smoking and excess fat - that doctors warn patients to steer clear of, according to a new statement from 20 heart experts.
Citing pollution’s heavy toll on cardiovascular health, the panel urges people to take steps to protect themselves from breathing heavy traffic fumes or industrial air pollution whenever possible, and public officials to pass laws to reduce air pollution.Air pollution causes more than 3 million deaths worldwide each year and causes 3.1 percent of all cases of disability, Storey and his coauthors write in the European Heart Journal.
Air pollution is also ninth most important on a list of modifiable heart-disease risk factors - ranking above low physical activity, high-salt diet, high cholesterol and drug use, the authors point out.
Although gaseous air pollutants can be dangerous too, Storey said, airborne particles are the biggest contributor to cardiovascular disease because they cause inflammation of the lungs and enter the circulation, inflaming blood vessels, provoking clots and causing heart rhythm disturbances.
Particulate matter includes coarse particles from road dust, construction work and industrial emissions and fine particles from traffic, power plants and industrial and residential burning of oil, coal or wood for heating. The bulk of particulate air pollution is made up of these fine particles, known as PM2.5, that are less than 2.5 micrometers - about one fifth the size of visible dust. In 2013, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lowered the 24-hour exposure limit to an average of 12 micrograms.
European studies have found that PM2.5 levels are often markedly higher near heavy traffic zones compared to elsewhere in the same city, and that the levels can more than double during rush hours, according to the position statement.
Some of the authors’ advice for people to protect themselves is as simple as walking, cycling and using public transportation instead of driving cars, and exercising in parks or gardens, rather than near busy roads. And everyone should avoid being outside when pollution is highest, though this is especially important for infants, elderly and people with heart problems, the authors say.People who live in heavily polluted areas should also consider ventilation systems with filtration in their homes, since a large portion of outdoor pollution can penetrate buildings.
The use of fossil fuels for heating and energy should also be decreased, according to the statement.
Studies have shown even short-term exposure to high PM2.5 levels increases deaths from heart disease and respiratory disease, and that people living in places with high PM2.5 have an 11 percent greater risk of dying from heart attacks, strokes and heart failure than those who live in cleaner areas.