When most people think of air pollution, they think about the adverse effects it can have on their lungs and respiratory system. While this is certainly not to be discounted, a new 10-year study funded by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has found that long-term air pollution can cause detrimental problems in a person’s cardiovascular health as well.
According to Grist.org, the study, which was originally published in The Lancet and entitled the “Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis and Air Pollution,” found that people who live close to areas of increased concentrations of particulate matter and nitrogen oxides (i.e. pollution) have an accelerated rate of hardening of the coronary arteries. This specific type of heart disease, that frequently leads to heart attacks, is known as atherosclerosis.
“Increased concentrations of PM2·5 and traffic-related air pollution within metropolitan areas, in ranges commonly encountered worldwide, are associated with progression in coronary calcification, consistent with acceleration of atherosclerosis,” the study’s synopsis reads. “This study supports the case for global efforts of pollution reduction in prevention of cardiovascular diseases.”
Pollution and waste contaminants adversely impact many areas of American society every day. In fact, approximately 80% of the most serious hazardous waste sites in the U.S. have adversely impacted the quality of nearby ground water.
Yet one of the most troubling findings of the study was something most people probably already know or assume, which is that people of color tend to be inherently more at-risk of growing up in a community that is marred by air pollution.
For this study, which was led by University of Washington Professor Joel Kaufman, researchers tracked 5,843 people in New York City, Chicago, Baltimore, St. Paul, Winston-Salem, and Los Angeles county. Approximately 39% of the study’s participants were white, 27% black, 22% Latino, and 12% Chinese-American.
The team used computational models to determine the amount of fine particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, and black carbon in the air where the study’s participants lived to see how much air pollution they came into contact with, on average.
The researchers then used CT scans to measure calcium deposits in the participants’ arteries over time.
Sure enough, they discovered that those living in highly polluted areas with “increased concentrations of particulate matter and nitrogen oxides,” according to Grist, were more likely to suffer adverse health effects and hardening of the arteries as a result.