A link between exposure to air pollution and vascular (heart) damage has been found in a new study. The study, led by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) and supported by the la Caixa Foundation, found new evidence about the negative effects of air pollution on cardiovascular health. Although this has been noted in many other studies, most of that research only included areas of high-income countries where the main source of exposure is road vehicle traffic. Low- and middle-income countries have more ways of being exposed to air pollution than by traffic. There are biomass stoves, for example.
A team from the CHAI Project, which was coordinated by ISGlobal, conducted a cross-sectional study that analyzed more than 3,000 people living in 28 villages south of Hyderabad, India. Each participant visited the clinic twice and had their weight and height recorded, and blood samples were taken. Researches evaluated three cardiovascular markers that show different types of vascular damage:
- Carotid intima-media thickness which marks atherosclerosis.
- Carotid-femoral pulse wave velocity, which marks arterial stiffness.
- Central blood pressure augmentation index, which marks global vascular injury.
Personal exposure to air pollution was determined by measuring each participant’s exposure over 24-hour periods to PM2.5 and black carbon. PM2.5 are airborne particles that measure less than 2.55 µm in diameter. Each of the participants wore a device made of wearable cameras that were specially created to study sources of exposure to air pollution. This study, which was published in the Environment International journal, was the first use of these wearable cameras that monitored personal PM2.5.
What The Study Found
Women were exposed to higher levels of air pollution than men were. However, both men and women were exposed to higher levels than the maximum value recommended by the World Health Organization, which is 10 µg/m. A total of 3,017 men and women participated in the study. 1,453 of them were women — just less than half.
The final conclusions were that personal exposure to air pollution is associated with vascular damage in a peri-urban population in South India. This exposure also has gender-specific effects on the types of vascular damages. CHAI Project coordinator, who also coordinated the study, Cathryn Tonne, pointed out that, “the approach used by these researchers takes into account the contribution of air pollution sources other than traffic, making an effort to obtain more detailed data on actual personal exposure.”
Covid-19 Showed A Glimpse Of Clean Air As A New Normal
Covid-19 is devastating, but it forced the world to stay home in hopes of preventing the spread of the virus. As many countries locked down, air pollution levels dropped so drastically that NASA even noted it in satellite images. While cleaner air isn’t just some wonderful experience, it could, as this particular study has shown in regards to vascular damage, reduce the risk of lung and heart disease. In Jalandhar, citizens saw the Himalayas for the first time in 30 years during the shutdown. That’s how thick the smog is there — it blocks the view of an entire mountain range.
A study by Harvard linked Covid-19 deaths with air pollution. Dr. Francesca Dominici explained in an interview that people living in counties in the US that experienced a higher level of air pollution over the past 15–17 years had a higher Covid-19 mortality rate. She noted that the team found out that “a one-unit increase in long-term average exposure to fine particulate matter is associated with a 15% increase in COVID-19 mortality rate on average in the analysis.”
In other words, the higher the air pollution, the higher the mortality rates of Covid-19. If that isn’t an advertisement for the benefits of clean air, then I don’t know what is.