Particles in air pollution cause a wide range of damaging effects to the cardiovascular system, according to a landmark new report.
The Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants (COMEAP) report found that air pollution can cause damage to the cardiovascular system in the following ways:
- increasing blood pressure
- making the blood more likely to clot
- the build-up of fatty materials inside the arteries, reducing the space through which blood can flow – also known as atherosclerosis
- altering the heart’s normal electrical rhythm – also referred to as arrhythmias
- causing inflammatory effects on the cardiovascular system – or systemic inflammation.
COMEAP advises the government on all matters concerning the health effects of air pollutants and this new report marks the most comprehensive review to date, examining the studies conducted over the past decade on the potential biological mechanisms by which exposure to air pollution results in adverse cardiovascular health effects.
In the report, COMEAP found clear evidence that exposure to small particles of air pollution has a wide range of effects on the cardiovascular system, including irregular heartbeat and blood clots. The COMEAP report also provides recommendations where new research is needed to get a more precise understanding of the impact of air pollution on cardiovascular health.
It follows the publication of a COMEAP report in July this year, which estimated that long-term exposure to the air pollution mixture in the UK contributes to between 28,000 and 36,000 deaths every year. The WHO also estimate that almost six in ten deaths related to outdoor air pollution being caused by a heart attack or stroke.
British Heart Foundation (BHF) Chief Executive Simon Gillespie said: “This thorough report gives us a clear view of the damaging impact air pollution has on our heart and circulatory system. While there are steps that people can take to reduce their exposure to air pollution we can’t expect people to move house to avoid air pollution – Government and public bodies must be acting right now to make all areas safe and protect people from these harms.
“We were reassured to see that the Government’s draft clean air strategy had a focus on health, but we need a commitment to WHO guideline limits for particulate air pollution in UK law to drive action to better protect the nation from the damage to health caused by air pollution.
“Having these targets in law will also help to improve the lives of those currently living with heart and circulatory diseases, as we know they are particularly affected by air pollution.”