Chemist Direct reports a significant association between particulate matter found in air pollution and increased susceptibility to cardiovascular disease

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Presented at the Acute Cardiac Care Congress last year an ESCAPE study says fine and super-fine particles present in lower levels than the EU air safety levels of 10PM, may still be causing an increase in heart attack risk, especially for those with a history of cardiovascular disease.

Heart Health

Air pollution may increase risk of heart attack

...air pollution may increase cardiovascular event rates because PM10 can induce processes that are bad for the heart including inflammation and coagulation.

Air pollution and environmental changes can interact in several ways, leading to an increase in long-term health issues. Most countries have set limits for fine particle levels in the air to help limit these health issues linked to air pollution, but climate-related factors such as temperature and humidity can affect the reaction rates of particles in the air.

This in turn affects the formation of the pollutants which are associated with increasing carcinogenic levels in the human body, causing an increase in cancer risks and aggravating allergies and lung diseases, from asthma to fatal respiratory diseases.

In a joint European study led by scientists of Helmholtz Zentrum München, 1 eleven countries participated in evaluating the long-term effects of exposure to accepted levels of particle matter to discover the health risks that occur in most cities worldwide.

They discovered that a difference of just 5 microgram/m3 in long-term exposure to air pollution caused a higher chance of heart attacks and increased the cases of unstable angina. Rural readings as low as PM2.5 or the equivalent of 25 microgram/m3 was still found to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, although the risk increased greatly in larger cities and industrial areas.

More than 100,000 participants, who were free from any heart ailments, were observed for almost 12 years in various countries like the UK, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Italy and Germany during which a total of 5,157 individuals suffered a heart attack or unstable angina pectoris, both generally caused by calcification of the coronary vessels. An increase of 5 µg/m³of annual concentration of PM2.5 or 10 µg/m³ of PM10 in the ambient air led to a 13 and 12 percent increased risk of heart attack, respectively.

And the risk remained elevated even at levels below the current EU limit values of 25 µg/m³ for PM2.5 and 40 µg/m³ for PM10. The researchers also found that older people above the age of 65 years and men were particularly susceptible to having arrhythmias, atrial fibrillation or acute coronary syndromes at increasing levels of air pollution.

“Previous studies support the hypothesis that air pollution may increase cardiovascular event rates because PM10 can induce processes that are bad for the heart including inflammation and coagulation.

"Our results show that exposure to particulate matter poses a significant health risk – and an even greater risk than previously thought,” said Professor Peters, lead author of the study. “The adverse health effects that occurred at exposure levels below the current specified limits are particularly alarming. The study therefore supports the demands to lower these limits.” 2 This team of scientists, led by Prof. Dr. Annette Peters and Dr. Kathrin Wolf of the Institute of Epidemiology II, published the results of their study in the online British Medical Journal. 3


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Samantha Smith
Chemist Direct
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