Air pollution significantly increases risk for heart attack and stroke, study shows

Air pollution significantly increases risk for heart attack and stroke, study shows
© Belga

A new study gathering data from over 300,000 people indicates a strong correlation between high concentrations of particles in the air, with increased risk for cardiovascular diseases or stroke.

The researchers compared data on daily particles concentrations in the air from the whole Belgian territory, with data from IMA. The data gave an overview of medication and surgery repayments to treat thromboses that can lead to heart attacks or strokes.

The study analysed data from 302,803 people who all had had treatments or surgery associated with thrombo-embolic events.

This is the first time that such a large-scale analysis has been carried out in Belgium. It involves a unique collaboration between several Universities; KU Leuven, Antwerp University and Hasselt University, and health institutes such as Sciensano, the Inter-Mutualistic Agency (IMA), as well as data collected from three Medicare centres.

The conclusion was that “even a small increase of the number of particles in the air – 10 micrograms to be precise – increases the need for medication by 1,2% and an operation by 2,7%,” Tim Nawrot, professor of environmental epidemiology of the Hasselt and Leuven University, explained. “These percentages seem small, but their impact is significant.”

Earlier studies have already shown a clear correlation between fine particles and acute mortality, even in low concentrations.

Air pollution

The health risks get higher when the number of particles in the air is higher than 10 micrograms/m3.

In Belgium, the average air pollution (of particles smaller than 10 micrometres in diameter) is about 20 micrograms per cubic meter of air. On days with smog, this rate can easily increase to 60-70 micrograms.

“Stronger rules should help reducing air pollution,” Nawrot said. The European standards are far too loose. Anyone can achieve them, even the old polluting Eastern European industry, which creates a false impression of safety.”

In an earlier study from October 2020, in which Tim Nawrot participated, the research team discovered that Polish school children were exposed to four times more pollution than French. Nawrot said that “he had never seen such high concentrations.”

Children are particularly vulnerable to air pollution. Particulate matter, including black carbon, is associated with decreased cognitive function, impaired cognitive aging, increased cardiovascular morbidity, mortality, respiratory and cancerous diseases later in life.

In December 2020, a British court concluded that a nine-year-old girl’s death was caused by air pollution. It was the first time a British court linked a death case to pollution.

The Brussels Times

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