Even ‘safe’ levels of air pollution can harm your health

Scientists have found that being exposed to levels well below European air quality limits is a major health risk.

In fact, prolonged exposure to particles of soot or dust in traffic fumes or ­industrial emissions may be more deadly than previously thought.

Research examining 20 years of data from 360,000 city residents in 13 European countries shows an increase of five microgrammes per cubic metre in annual ­exposure to fine-particle air ­pollution raises the risk of death by natural causes seven per cent.

Lead researcher Dr Rob ­Beelen, of Utrecht University in the Netherlands, said: “A difference of five microgrammes per cubic metre can be found between a location at a busy urban road and at a location not influenced by traffic.

“Our findings support health impact assessments of fine particles in Europe previously based almost entirely on North American studies.”

Published in The Lancet, the research looked at data from 22 ­different studies. Annual average air pollution concentrations of nitrogen oxides and particulates were linked to home addresses and exposures estimated. Traffic density on the nearest road and total traffic load on major roads within 110 yards of the home were also recorded.

A total of 29,076 people died of natural causes during a follow-up period of just under 14 years.

Results showed that long-term exposure to fine particles with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometres (PM2.5) posed the greatest threat – even within concentration ranges well below EU limits.

The association between prolonged exposure and premature death remained significant even after adjusting for factors such as smoking, social status, fitness, education and body-mass index. The researchers also noted PM2.5 was associated with excess mortality in men but not in women.

In a comment linked to the study, Dr Jeremy Langrish and Dr Nicholas Mills from the British Heart Foundation Centre for Cardiovascular Sciences at Edinburgh University, said: “Despite major improvements in air quality in the past 50 years, the data draw attention to the continuing effects of air pollution on health.

“These data, along with the findings from other large cohort studies, suggest that further public and environmental health policy interventions are necessary.”

Speaking to the Daily Express, Dr Langrish added: “This is the first time a large European study has reported associations between air pollution and death and it has shown that at levels of air pollution that we are normally exposed to, and that are relatively low, they are still associated with increases in the risk of death.”

via Even ‘safe’ levels of air pollution can harm your health | Health | News | Daily Express.

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