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Surprising Science

Air Pollution Causes Heart Attacks

Breathing air pollution is worse for your heart than your lungs, say scientists. A new study reveals that even one day’s exposure to chemicals in the air increases heart attack rates.

What’s the Latest Development?

A new survey of air pollutants from cities all over the world takes the broadest look yet at how breathing harmful chemicals affects the heart. The results are dramatic. Even short term exposure, defined by the study to be less than seven days, was associated with an increase in heart attacks. While the magnitude of air pollution is small relative to smoking, blood pressure and diabetes, it reaches far more peopleeveryone in a given cityand personal choice is removed from the equation, making pollution an issue of justice as well as health.

What’s the Big Idea?

Luckily, the air of American cities has been getting steadily cleaner over the past few decades as cars, trucks, industry and consumer products have been forced to get cleaner. “Areas with excessive levels of one or more of the five pollutants [fine particles, coarse particles, ozone, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide] include the Los Angeles basin, California’s San Joaquin Valley, the Salt Lake City area, Phoenix, New York City and Philadelphia.” For many years, the focus of pollution’s effects were on the lungs.

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