It’s enough to take your breath away.
A new study reveals that inhaling New York air can block arteries to the brain — raising the risk of such constriction by nearly 25% in the dirtiest areas.
“We need to worry about the air now?” asked Virginia Fogle, 60, a former corrections officer from Jamaica.
Yes, Virginia, we do. Air pollution can narrow the arteries in the head and neck, cutting off oxygen to the brain and triggering strokes, according to the research by NYU Langone Medical Center, which studied 300,000 area residents.
The constriction — a condition known as carotid artery stenosis that’s responsible for half the strokes in the country — is especially troubling for people with health problems.
“Pollution could be that extra little push that could lead to a cardiovascular event,” said study author Dr. Jonathan Newman, who published his findings in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology Wednesday — one day after other scholars warned of the danger of that other unavoidable fact of New York life: subway rats.
The feds say that humans can safely tolerate 12 micrograms of pollution per cubic meter of air. But the worst parts of the tri-state area register 12.9-14.7 micrograms — raising those residents’ risk by 8.1-24.3%.
“For every 1 microgram increase in air pollution, your risk of carotid artery stenosis goes up by 9%,” Newman told The News.
New York’s air has gotten cleaner since federal standards were tightened in the 1970s — but the city still doesn’t meet federal standards for two dangerous pollutants, fine particulate matter and ground-level ozone.
Surprisingly, areas like the South Bronx, Bedford-Stuyvesant and Flushing have cleaner air than tony Gramercy and Chelsea, where pollution is 18% and 9.5% above federal standards.
Those neighborhoods have the dirtiest air in the five boroughs. But at least those Manhattanites aren’t living in Beijing, where the smoggy air recently registered 568 micrograms per cubic meter — 47 times our nation’s standard.
Since not breathing is not an option, Newman recommends that people already at risk for stroke — smokers, and those with high blood pressure and high cholesterol, for example — should stay indoors when smog or ozone is particularly bad.
The news scared stroke survivor Juan Villafane, 69, a retired auditor from downtown Brooklyn.
“It could be fatal (next) time,” he said.
Newman also recommended that residents lobby for cleaner air. But there’s only so much that can be done until that happens.
“New York is a dirty city,” said Joseph Butler, a 62-year-old retired city transit worker in Park Slope. “You gotta breathe.”