Traffic fumes increase chance of heart attack

04/10/2011

A recent study in the British Medical Journal found that breathing large amounts of road traffic fumes can significantly increase the chance of a heart attack. The research found that a heart attack can be triggered up to 6 hours after the exposure to traffic fumes, confirming the health risks associated with pollution.

The science behind the findings suggests that exposure to pollutant particles and nitrogen dioxide from cars is the main factors in causing the heart attacks.

Air pollution experts estimate that pollution causes 29,000 premature deaths a year in the UK, including 4,200 in London alone.

Jenny Bates, an air pollution campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said “This study adds to the urgent need for bold action to cut air pollution in order to comply with EU limits”

“It’s outrageous that we’re continuing to breathe this dirty air and that ministers haven’t done enough to clean up our air.”

The study has emerged at a time when then government is facing legal action from an environmental group for not doing anything to protect the health of people in cities from the dangers of pollution. It is likely that the environment secretary, Caroline Spelman, will face a judicial review before Christmas.

The study found that residents in large cities have much more exposure to the harmful fumes. The results were generated through studies of 79,288 heart attack cases that occurred in 15 urban areas of England and Wales between 2003 and 2006 by Krishnan Bhaskaran and six colleagues at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

They examined how much pollution was present in each area at the time of the heart attacks in relation to levels of carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide and ozone as well as pollutant particles know as PM10, and nitrogen dioxide or NO2.

The authors of the study wrote “We estimated that higher ambient levels of the traffic-associated pollutants, PM10 and NO2, were followed by a transiently increased risk of myocardial infarction up to six hours later,”

In more simple terms, the study quantifies the risk of a heart attack after exposure to harmful fumes. The figure calculated is that the risk of heart attack is 1.3% higher up to 6 hours after exposure to the harmful fumes. Although this figure doesn’t sound especially high, other risks involved with exposure to the fumes are that it can bring forward by a few hours a heart attack that was going to happen anyway.

These findings were further simplified and summarised by Professor Jeremy Pearson, associate medical director of the British Heart Foundation, which co-funded the study, who said “This large scale study shows conclusively that your risk of having a heart attack goes up temporarily, for around six hours, after breathing in higher levels of vehicle exhaust.”

The government has responded to the findings with a statement from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs which said that it was a priority to keep improving air quality and reducing the impact it can have on human health and the environment. Furthermore the statement added that air quality has improved considerably in recent years and almost all of the UK now meets EU air quality limits for all pollutants.