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Heart conditions and death due to air pollution have risen 30% since 1990, study says

Buildings in Midtown Manhattan are shrouded in smoke from Canadian wildfires on June 7, 2023, in New York. (Luiz C. Ribeiro/New York Daily News/TNS)

Air pollution, especially its tiniest particles, has contributed to a 30% global rise in heart-related disabilities and death since 1990, a new study has found.

The pollution connection affected men more than women, while poorer regions of the world were hit harder that wealthier areas, researchers said in the study published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

The most notable culprit, particulate matter pollution, shows up outside in dirt, dust, soot or smoke from coal- and gas-fueled power plants, vehicle emissions, agriculture, dust, pollen and wildfire smoke, while cooking or heating by the use of coal or wood creates the matter inside.

These tiny particles are not picked up by the body’s defenses, and easily get inhaled, making their way into the lungs and bloodstream. They have long been documented as a contributor to numerous health conditions and premature death.

For the study, researchers looked at 30 years of data from the Global Burden of Disease Study conducted by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

Senior author Dr. Farshad Farzadfar of the Tehran University of Medical Sciences in Iran said his team found a 43% increase among men compared to a 28% increase among women for certain cardiovascular conditions.

Over the three-decade span, deaths and disability from outdoor particulate matter rose, while the indoor version declined, the researchers found. Those in wealthier regions lived longer, but with a higher rate of disability, while poorer areas showed fewer years lived with disability but more premature death.

“The reason for the decrease in the burden of household air pollution from solid fuels might be better access and use of cleaner fuels, such as refined biomass, ethanol, liquefied petroleum gas, solar and electricity,” Farzadfar said, along with better stoves and improved ventilation.

“The shifting pattern from household air pollution due to solid fuels to outdoor, ambient (particulate matter) pollution has important public policy implications,” he concluded.


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