Sudden and rapid increases in pollution found to be as damaging to the heart as sustained levels
03/05/2018 // Frances Bloomfield // Views

Elevated levels of long-term air pollution are known for increasing the risk of various health problems, heart attacks included. As researchers have discovered, however, rapid increases in air pollution can be just as deadly as sustained high levels.

As part of their research, the investigative team assessed 693 patients who'd been admitted to Jena University Hospital between 2003 and 2010 due to heart attack. At the time of the study, all of the patients were living within 10 km of Jena, a German university city that, in recent years, had air pollutant concentrations exceeding that of the daily limits allowed by the European Union (EU).

Air pollutant concentrations were measured the week before and after each patient exhibited the symptoms of a heart attack. These calculations were then compared to air pollutant concentrations that had been evaluated one, two, and three days prior to heart attack symptoms. Through these estimations and comparisons, the researchers were able to find out that surges of nitric oxide exceeding 20 micrograms per cubic meter of air (?g/m3) within a day could double a person's risk of heart attack. A post-24-hour increase would more than double the chances.

These findings suggested that exposure to high concentrations of nitrogen oxides weren't the only factor that could make one more susceptible to heart problems. In fact, the researchers stated that the sudden elevation in air pollutants could actually be as impactful as actual concentrations. (Related: The health effects of exposure to smog: Researchers look at how to mitigate effects on humans and the environment.)

"The impact of rapid increases in air pollutants on heart health may be at least as important as absolute concentrations," said senior author and Jena University Hospital doctor, Florian Rakers. "The adverse effects of rapid rises in pollution can occur in smaller cities. Increases of nitric oxides by more than 20 ?g/m3 within 24 hours happen more than 30 times per year in Jena, which is known as a ‘clean air’ city where statutory limits for nitric oxides are generally not violated."

Although the researchers did not look into the possible causes for Jena's air pollution spikes, Rakers has stated that it may due to traffic congestion. In the EU, ground traffic is typically cited as the main source of nitric oxides. The ground traffic in Jena most likely resulted from “irregular events” such as the beginning of the holidays or smog.

What else can cause excess air pollution?

In some cases, an abundance of air pollution in a short amount of time is caused by industrial endeavors. This was demonstrated in another study wherein researchers from Indiana University Bloomington's School of Public and Environmental Affairs assessed the emissions of industrial shutdowns and startups in Texas.

They found that five sectors were primarily responsible for almost 80 percent of Texas' industrial facility excess emissions; and within these sectors themselves were select few facilities that pumped out the majority of the emissions. For instance, the state's top six oil refineries (out of 30) were noted for emitting 70 percent of the recorded sulfur dioxide and 77 percent of carbon monoxide. There were other cases where the excess emissions were brought about by natural causes, like when an oil refinery in Port Arthur suffered a power outage and released 1,296 tons of sulfur dioxide within the span of 56 hours.

Based on their results, the researchers proposed that more effort be put into regulating excess air pollution. A similar conclusion was reached by Rakers and his colleagues.

"Once our findings are replicated, the EU should discuss statutory limits on rapid increases of nitric oxides. This would require more efforts to reduce these air pollutants, such as banning diesel cars that exceed EU emission limits," he said.

To read up on more studies that correlate the environment and our health, simply go to today.

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