Pollution increases risk of heart attack at levels below EU limits
Living in a city increases your chance of having a heart attack due to the air that you breathe. The British Medical Journal today published a study showing that a 5 μg/m3 increase in annual mean PM2.5 was associated with a 13% increased risk of coronary events.
This evidence is based on a large study of 100,000 people, who were followed for 12 years. What’s more, this relationship persists at levels of exposure below the current European limit values, which supports the “need to meet existing and even more stringent air quality standards to minimise cardiovascular morbidity and mortality.”
This story has been covered widely in the media, including the Today programme (at 35:50), the BBC News, and the Telegraph. The BBC News seemed at pains to immediately emphasise that the risk to individuals was low compared with factors such as smoking. Radio 4’s Today Programme at least got down to the crux of it – that for some people, living near a busy road is ‘an unavoidable exposure’ and that action to avoid it would need to be taken at a government level. Too often this point is ignored – while the risks of smoking are significant and the reasons for people smoking socially complex, it still remains an individual choice. Conversely, reducing air pollution is beyond the control of the individual and more often than not the burden falls on the poorest in society, with poorer areas suffering from dirtier air.
But there is an opportunity to address this at the EU level. A package of new legislation to tackle air pollution at source was put forward by the European Commission in December 2013.The proposals include new national targets for emissions of PM2.5, the killer particles that were the subject of the study published today. Strict and ambitious targets will deliver better air quality and save thousands of lives. Unfortunately the proposals aren’t ambitious enough, and there is a danger that they could get weaker still as member states and industry start lobbying efforts in earnest.
So now is the time to act. Ministers are currently in the process of agreeing the UK’s official negotiation position on the package. We need to put pressure on the Government to respond to the science and make sure that this opportunity to put the EU on the path to a cleaner, healthier future is not squandered.
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