Researchers have found that air pollution is associated with detrimental impacts on human and animal health, including increased risk of heart disease and stroke.
The study, published in The Journal of Physiology, by researchers at The University of Manchester in the UK, shows that the knowledge people have about how pollution harms the hearts of marine species can be applied to humans, as the underlying mechanisms are similar.
Around 11,000 coronary heart disease and stroke deaths in the UK, each year are attributable to air pollution, specifically due to particulate matter (PM), or small particles in the air that cause health problems.
PM2.5 is one of the finest and most dangerous types of PM, which is a compound for which the UK has failed to meet European Union limits.
“We know that air pollution can have a hugely damaging effect on the heart and circulatory health, and this review summarises mechanisms potentially contributing to impaired heart function,” said study researcher Jeremy Pearson, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation.
For the findings, the researchers looked across all vertebrates and particularly focused on a set of compounds that binds to the surface of PM, called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) as its amount on PM is associated with the detrimental effects that air pollution has on the heart.
“Pollution affects all of us living on Planet Earth. Due to the conserved nature of cardiac function amongst animals, fish exposed to PAH from oil spills can serve as indicators, providing significant insights into the human health impacts of PAHs and PM air pollution,” said Holly Shiels, study senior author from the University of Manchester.
Studies after the ‘1999 Exxon Valdez oil spill’ showed that the ecosystem still has not recovered 20 years on.
According to the researchers, in 2010, research on fish after the ‘Deepwater Horizon oil spill’, which released large quantities of PAHs into the marine environment, showed that the heart’s ability to contract was impaired.
“Reducing air pollution is crucial to protecting our heart health, which is why the British Heart Foundation, is calling on the next Government to commit to reducing air pollution within WHO limits,” Pearson said.