A cyclist in London wearing a protective mask to filter out pollution.

The dirtier the air, the more likely people are to suffer sudden heart attacks, researchers have found.  Particulate matter – tiny specks of soot, dust, and other pollutants in the air that can be breathed deep into the lungs – has been ‘consistently’ linked to increases in deaths from heart disease and clogged arteries.


But studies looking at whether air pollution specifically ups the risk of heart attack or cardiac arrest have had mixed results.

Now scientists from Monash University in Melbourne have found a direct link between the increase of airborne particles and the likelihood of heart attack.

It comes as the UK faces fines of £300million after receiving a stern warning about London’s air quality from the European Commission.

The Commission delivered its ‘final’ warning to the Government in response to dangerously high levels of airborne particles, known as PM10s. These tiny particles measure 10 microns (one millionth of a metre) or less.

‘Air pollution is bad for our health,’ said EU environment commissioner Janez Potocnik.

‘It reduces human life expectancy by more than eight months on average and by more than two years in the most polluted cities and regions.’

The Australian authors, led by Dr Martine Dennekamp noted that airborne particles could also trigger heart attack or even sudden death in people with no apparent symptoms of heart disease.

The team looked at more than eight thousands cases of sudden heart attack among people 35 and older that occurred in Melbourne between 2003 and 2006.

After a rise in concentration of the tiniest airborne particles (particles less than 2.5 microns across), the likelihood of heart attack rose and stayed higher than average for two days.

For every 4.26 micrograms per cubic metre increase in PM2.5 concentrations, the risk of cardiac arrest was four per cent higher than average for the next 48 hours.

None of several other pollutants the researchers measured, including larger airborne particles, affected risk. The effect was strongest for people 65 to 74 years old.

However, the study does not prove that pollution causes more cardiac arrests, as the researchers did not find out whether participants in the study also smoked or had other risk factors for heart disease.

Around 146,000 people have a heart attack in the UK each year. It occurs mostly in the over-50s and becomes more common with increasing age.

Via Daily Mail