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Low-level pollution can cause heart problems

Monday 6th August 2018
Cardiovascular health can be adversely affected by levels of pollution well within current UK legal limits, new research has indicated.
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The link between poor air quality and cardiovascular problems is well-established, but new research has indicated that even low levels of pollution can cause damaging changes to the heart. 

A study of 4,000 people across the UK by Queen Mary University of London researchers found that people living by busy roads in urban areas had larger hearts on average than those in localities with very low pollution levels. This was the case even though all the people studied were living in areas where the pollution levels were within UK guidelines. 

In more polluted areas, the number of PM2.5 pollutant particles ranged from eight to 12 micrograms per cubic metre, well below the 25 permitted under UK law, but around the ten micrograms limit recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).
The published research from the university's William Harvey Research Institute and Barts Health NHS Trust concluded that the government needs to do more to reduce pollution. 

Data team leader Dr Nay Aung said: "Although our study was observational and hasn’t yet shown a causal link, we saw significant changes in the heart, even at relatively low levels of air pollution exposure. 

"Our future studies will include data from those living in inner cities like central Manchester and London, using more in-depth measurements of heart function, and we would expect the findings to be even more pronounced and clinically important." 

He added that pollution should be seen as a "modifiable risk factor" when it comes to cardiovascular health, in much the same way that blood pressure, cholesterol and weight are.

Responding to the findings, Professor Jeremy Pearson, the associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, called on the government to adopt the WHO guidelines.  

The government has placed much of its recent focus on reducing nitrogen oxide levels in urban areas, after many of these were found to be higher than permitted under EU law. This has meant drawing up plans to cut the use of diesel, despite governments having previously backed the fuel as a 'cleaner' alternative to petrol due to its lower CO2 emissions. 

Written by Matthew Horton

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