Fine particulates pose threat to heart health

In the little over a year that I’ve been posting on the Air Quality Matters blog, there have been times when I have “happened upon” issues or findings that I thought were of extreme importance or help or relevance or any combination thereof. All during this time I held fast to the notion that in discussing and, yes, railing against poisonous or injurious or ruinous air pollution (take your pick), the health-impact-factor, in my mind’s eye, is what matters most. Sure, pollution, as part of the air’s overall makeup is and has been part of the picture for centuries, but given that such has taken the toll on life it has, what it is not is some innocuous property; what polluted air is, on the other hand, is a situation that demands focused, world attention.

It is one thing to be aware of air-pollution/health-impact statistics. It is something else entirely to be part of the prescriptive improvement process. There is heartening news here, this being that pollution can be eliminated and some real progress has been made in this regard. This very fact should be the impetus to increase the resolve to work toward that end.

Human_respiratory_system-NIH[1] (340x226)In matters related to the air pollution-health connection, a relationship that for a long time may not have been well understood – and, fortunately, in this respect, I believe things are changing, there is a Nov. 15, 2013 New York Times article dealing with just this very issue.

In the article in question: “Air Pollution as a Health Threat,” in the publication’s “Health/Science” section, columnist Deborah Blum wrote: “Bit by bit over the past few decades, scientists have been building a new understanding of the ways that air pollution threatens human health.”

“Sadly, there is now a pile of evidence, sometimes startling, that air pollution also plays a role in heart attacks and strokes. The new studies suggest that air pollution not only worsens cardiovascular disease – but can also cause it.”

In fact, in the Environmental Health Journal in: “Long-term air pollution and cardio- respiratory mortality: a review,” authors Gerard Hoek, Ranjini M. Krishnan, Rob Beelen, Annette Peters, Bart Ostro, Bert Brunekreef and Joel D. Kaufman, are resolute.

Anatomy_Heart_English_Tiesworks[1]In the related article abstract the authors write: “Long-term exposure to PM2.5 was more associated with mortality from cardiovascular disease (particularly ischemic heart disease) than from non-malignant respiratory diseases (pooled estimate 3% (95% CI -6, 13%)).”

But it isn’t just that. In the New York Times article, Blum wrote: “Vehicle emissions are thought to include an unusually high proportion of very small, or ultrafine, particles, allowing them to penetrate deeper into the body. Researchers say there is also some evidence that the shape of these particles gives them an unusually high surface area, which permits other contaminants to stick onto them. As a result, they may actually concentrate toxic compounds in polluted air.” For more on this, see: “Tracking pollution: Research helps explain air-contaminant survival.”

In reading such information this helps me better understand what the world might be up against in terms of comprehensive air pollution mitigation. Some pollution types tend to decompose rather easily and in a relatively short period. But, other types of pollutants, on the other hand, can take months, if not years or even decades to disintegrate or dissolve.

All of which points to and suggests to me that more stringent regulatory practices and controls and, if need be, enforcement measures, must be put in place. Plus innovative, pragmatic and viable approaches that reduce the opportunity for harmful, unhealthy, deadly pollutants to be air-released or, render null and void the opportunity completely, must be instituted. And what this, no doubt, would result in is a significantly lowered or non-existent threat to human health as it has to do with pollution that has been introduced into the air. Me, myself, I like the non-existent-threat-part the best.

Upper image: U.S. National Institutes of Health: National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute

– Alan Kandel