In a new study from Karolinska Institutet, researchers found prolonged exposure to air pollution can be linked to an increased risk of stroke and coronary heart disease, even when levels are below the limits specified by the EU and WHO.
The results indicate that the current air quality guidelines do not provide sufficient protection.
In the study, the team examined more than 137,000 participants from six different cohorts in Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Germany that were followed for an average of 17 years.
The researchers tested whether there is a link between stroke or acute coronary heart disease and prolonged exposure to fine particulate matter (particles with a mass less than 2.5 microns in diameter, PM2.5), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), black carbon, and ozone (O3).
They discovered a 10% increase in the risk of suffering a stroke for every increase of 5 micrograms per cubic meter of fine particulate matter in the air where people live.
The study shows air pollution in urban areas is contributing to the risk of stroke even after adjustment for noise.
The researchers could also link nitrogen dioxide and black carbon to an increased risk of stroke.
Only nitrogen dioxide was linked to an increased risk of coronary heart disease; every 10 micrograms per cubic meter increase in nitrogen dioxide in the air saw a 4% increase in the risk of coronary heart disease.
The team says future work needs to detect any safe thresholds below which levels of air pollution are harmless to cardiovascular health.
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The study is published in The Lancet Planetary Health. One author of the study is Petter Ljungman.
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