Short-term exposure to air pollution that may be of low level can be fatal and linked to an increased risk of sudden heart problems, mainly in older people, according to a study published Monday.
The study published in the journal The Lancet pointed to even low levels of air pollution that can increase the likelihood of cardiac arrest. Study researchers at The University of Sydney stressed upon a reassessment of international guidelines on air quality, saying that there is an “urgent need to reassess.”
The study’s authors believe that research is the largest of its kind to date. They examined the data from emergency medical responses in Japan over two years, and also the country’s air pollution records involving particulate matter.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, solid and liquid airborne droplets, both found in the particulate matter or particulate pollution. Different chemicals are found in the particles, made up of dust, dirt, smoke, or soot that originate from construction sites, fields, unpaved roads, smokestacks, or fires. But maximum particles contain pollutants from the power plant, industrial and vehicle emissions.
The focus of the study is on tiny particulate matter, or PM2.5, which can enter deep into the lungs when inhaled and then into the bloodstream.
The researchers identified out-of-home 249,372 cardiac arrest cases between January 2014 and December 2015. Cardiac arrest is caused by electrical disturbances that result in the sudden stopping of the heartbeat. A heart attack is one cause of sudden cardiac arrest.
While concentrations of PM2.5 were lower than the Japanese and US standard of 35 micrograms per cubic meter, about 98.5% of the cases of cardiac arrest studied occurred. Around 92% took place while PM2.5 concentrations were lower than the World Health Organization standard of 25 micrograms per cubic meter.
With every ten micrograms per cubic meter increase in PM2.5, the risk of cardiac arrest increased by 1-4%, researchers found.
A significant association between PM2.5 exposure and increased incidences of cardiac arrest is found in patients more than 65 years of age, researchers identified.
No significant difference is found on how PM2.5 affected men and women when researchers analyzed the data along gender lines.
Professor Kazuaki Negishi, a professor at the University of Sydney School of Medicine and the study’s senior author, said the findings support “recent evidence that there is no safe level of air pollution.”
Negishi added that the “tendency towards worsening air pollution — from increasing numbers of cars as well as disasters such as bushfires — the impacts on cardiovascular events, in addition to respiratory diseases and lung cancer — must be taken into account in health care responses.”
Earlier studies have also shown that polluted air causes diabetes, cancer, and death.
After massive bushfires that ravaged the country, researchers point to an increase in air pollution in Australian cities. The levels of PM2.5 reached more than 500 micrograms per cubic meter in the town of Richmond, west of Sydney, which is far surpassing standards deemed safe for humans to breathe. Earlier this month, NASA said smoke from the historic blazes traveled “halfway across Earth,” impacting the other countries’ air quality.
The study concluded that “to date, no threshold level of PM is advised as safe for the general population,” adding that “current air quality standards need to be reassessed with consideration for efficient strategies to reduce air pollutants to as low a level as possible.”
Many studies published last year also pointed to the threats that air pollution poses to health.
Research published by the BMJ found a link between exposure to particle pollution and hospitalizations because of cardiovascular and respiratory problems. The study also found the connection of air pollution to hospitalizations caused by unexpected diseases such as kidney failure, septicemia, skin infections, and urinary tract infections.
A 30-year analysis covering more than 600 cities in 24 countries found that increases in air pollution were related to increases in related deaths.
A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the United States estimated that more than 100,000 premature deaths in 2011 were linked to air pollution exposure.