‘Safe’ Air Pollution Harms Heart

Every increase in air pollution kills a few more people; find Demosthenes B. pollution.jpg image by silverbeamPanagiotakos, PhD, and colleagues at the University of Athens, Greece.
For every one-unit increase in carbon monoxide, the researchers suggest, there are two or more extra deaths each day. “These health effects occur even at exposure levels below those stipulated in current air-quality standards,” Panagiotakos says in a news release. “It is unclear whether a safe threshold exists.”

Over a five-year period, the researchers collected daily values of various air pollutants in Athens. They also collected data on heart disease and strokes. The main finding: A 10-unit increase in carbon monoxide ups heart and stroke deaths by 46%. Panagiotakos reported the findings at this week’s Scientific Sessions 2003 meeting of the American Heart Association. The results shouldn’t be a big surprise. Similar studies in other cities reach similar conclusions.
A Drag on the Heart
For a person who smokes, even a short-term increase in air pollution could mean a heart attack. Yves Cottin, MD, PhD, of the University of Dijon in Burgundy, France, and colleagues collected data on heart attacks that came on bad air days. Not everybody who got heart attacks on these days was a smoker. But pollution was more likely to trigger heart attacks in smokers than in nonsmokers. It’s also a warning for people already at risk of heart attacks to stay indoors and avoid strenuous exercise on bad air days, Cottin says. Tiny particles floating in the air — the kind of pollution mainly caused by diesel trucks — were the worst offender. Even at levels below national standards, they increased the risk of heart attacks. Cottin reported the findings at this week’s Scientific Sessions 2003 meeting of the American Heart Association.

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