3 June 2004

The American Heart Association (AHA) has published a scientific statement concluding that exposure to air pollution contributes to the development of cardiovascular diseases. It is the first time that AHA took a stand on air pollution. The statement was published in the AHA journal Circulation (Circulation 2004; 109:2655-2671).

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“The increase in relative risk for heart disease due to air pollution for an individual is small compared with the impact of the established cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol. However, this is a serious public health problem due to the enormous number of people affected and because exposure to air pollution occurs over an entire lifetime,” said Robert D. Brook, M.D., lead author of the statement and an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

The AHA conducted a comprehensive review of the literature on air pollution and cardiovascular disease. The statement focuses on particulate matter pollution, such as that generated by diesel engines, and on environmental tobacco smoke (secondhand smoke).

The AHA panel drew several conclusions about pollution:

  1. Prolonged exposure to elevated levels of particle pollution is a factor in reducing overall life expectancy by a few years.
  2. Short-term exposure to elevated levels of particle pollution is associated with the increased risk of death due to a cardiovascular event.
  3. Hospital admissions for several cardiovascular and pulmonary diseases are increased in response to higher concentrations of particle pollution.

“We hope that these conclusions will provide further support to the importance of the present-day air quality standards,” said Brook.

The AHA statement noted that more research is needed to determine the underlying biological mechanisms that may contribute to the development of cardiovascular disease, and to identify the toxicities of various air pollutants.

Source: AHA