Deadly air pollution can get into the bloodstream, ‘smoking gun’ study suggests 

Tiny particles – like those produced in vast amounts by burning fossil fuels – can pass through the lungs into the bloodstream and then damage various different organs, according to a controversial new experiment.

While air pollution has been linked to heart disease and millions of premature deaths, it was previously not known whether it was possible for the smallest particles to pass from the lungs into the bloodstream.

The new research saw 14 healthy volunteers and 12 surgical patients inhale nanoparticles of gold.

Tests on their blood and urine picked up the nanoparticles after just 15 minutes and they were still present up to three months later.

The British Heart Foundation (BHF), which funded the study, said there was “no doubt that air pollution is a killer” but the results of the experiment helped show how the deed was done.

Several scientists praised the research, but one criticised the suggested link to air pollution and said it was “very risky” to give gold nanoparticles to humans.

A paper about the study in the journal ACS Nano by scientists from Edinburgh University and the Netherlands said: “Air pollution is a major public and environmental health issue contributing to up to seven million premature deaths worldwide each year.

However finding any tiny particles from air pollution in the human body has proved difficult, so the researchers used gold, which could be more easily detected.

“Healthy volunteers were exposed to nanoparticles by acute inhalation, followed by repeated sampling of blood and urine,” the paper said.

“Gold was detected in the blood and urine within 15 minutes to 24 hours after exposure, and was still present three months after exposure. Levels were greater following inhalation of five-nanometre particles compared to 30nm particles.

“Gold particles could be detected in surgical specimens of carotid artery disease from patients at risk of stroke.”

The discovery of nanoparticles in the bloodstream and their accumulation at inflamed areas within the body “provides a direct mechanism that can explain the link between environmental nanoparticles and cardiovascular disease”, the researchers added.

Professor Jeremy Pearson, BHF’s associate medical director, said the study added to the case for the Government to take steps to reduce air pollution.

“There is no doubt that air pollution is a killer, and this study brings us a step closer to solving the mystery of how air pollution damages our cardiovascular health,” he said.

“More research is needed to pin down the mechanism and consolidate the evidence, but these results emphasise that we must do more to stop people dying needlessly from heart disease caused by air pollution.

“Crucially, individual avoidance of polluted areas is not a solution to the problem. Government must put forward bold measures to make all areas safe and protect the population from harm.”

Source: Deadly air pollution can get into the bloodstream, ‘smoking gun’ study suggests | The Independent

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