• Belgian Study Suggests Even 'Safe' Levels of Pollution Cause Heart Attacks

Air Clean Up

Belgian Study Suggests Even 'Safe' Levels of Pollution Cause Heart Attacks

Sep 30 2015

A study conducted by scientists, researchers and cardiologists from the University Hospital Brussels has revealed that air pollution well below the current levels which are deemed “safe” could be responsible for heart and lung complications in thousands of individuals. Even more concerningly, the effects of exposure could potentially be felt in one day, doing irredeemable damage to bodily organs.

The research was presented at the tail end of last month to the European Society for Cardiology Congress in London. It also concluded that the heightened risks only posed a threat to men, not women.

Pollution Leading to Hospitalisation

The researchers arrived at their results by comparing pollution levels across the city from 2009 to 2013 and correlated these with hospital submission figures for the same dates. The EU have imposed a series of new directives (including the Industrial Emissions Directive) over recent years, but even so 16 cities in the UK have retained criminally high levels of pollution since 2010.

As such, the data from Belgium should prove to be an eye-opening warning as to the daily dangers that city-dwellers face. With 11,428 hospitalisations across the surveyed period, this was compared to levels of particulate matter (PM2.5) and nitric dioxide in the air. The results were alarming, to say the least.

Heart attacks rose by 2.8% for every 10 mg/m3 of PM2.5 increase, while they rose by a whopping 5.1% for every similar increment in nitric dioxide levels. The effects could be felt within just one day as well, scientists warned. Dr Jean-François Argacha, the lead author of the study, stated his belief that air pollution was one of the biggest avoidable killers facing us today. Figures released by the World Health Organisation (WHO) later this year are expected to confirm that, with around 6,000 British deaths due to poor air quality per annum being projected by experts.

On the discrepancy between male and female reactions to the pollutants, Dr Argacha conceded there may have been a margin of error in the findings. “It is possible that only men were affected because of the under-representation of women in our study population - less than 25%,” he explained. “Nevertheless, previous studies have demonstrated that blood pressure, arterial stiffness and heart rate variability abnormalities secondary to air pollution exposure are more pronounced in men. Sex differences in obesity and blood inflammation may worsen air pollutant effects, too.”

A Change of British Attitudes Needed

It’s clear that Britain needs to address its air pollution problems, and quickly. After staunchly ignoring legislation from the EU to reduce PM2.5 and nitric dioxide for the last few years, the UK was hit with something of an ultimatum by the European Supreme Court in June of this year. Either it must comply by the end of 2015, or run the risk of a hefty fine.

The excellent turnout at this year’s Air Quality and Emissions (AQE) show in April of this year demonstrates a willingness to address the issue, at least on the part of citizens. If the governing authorities can follow suit in their policies, perhaps we can reduce the risk that this silent killer is wreaking on our population in the not-too-distant future.


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