Air Pollution is Causing More Heart Attacks and Strokes
Sun, April 18, 2021

Air Pollution is Causing More Heart Attacks and Strokes

Several countries in England reported having a higher number of emergency treatment cases / Photo Credit: Pixabay


More children and adults are rushed to hospitals for emergency treatment during high pollution days in England cities, according to statistics from King's College London (KCL). The data will be published in full next month, showing added burden to the already strained resources of the country's health services due to poor air quality.

Simon Stevens, the chief executive of the National Health Service in England, said the new figures show air pollution is attributed to thousands of cases of strokes, cardiac arrests, and asthma attacks—providing a clear implication that the climate crisis is also a health emergency.

Stevens called for immediate collective action "since these avoidable deaths are happening now, not in 2025 or 2050."


Increase in emergency treatments

Emergency services see a growing number of people visiting for treatments each year: over 120 for cardiac arrests, more than 230 for strokes, and nearly 200 people with asthma. These additional cases occur on days of high pollution compared to days with lower pollution, The Guardian reports.

High pollution days were defined based on levels of pollution. The researchers also compared the number of cases of the relevant illness during the period with higher pollution with the number of similar cases on days with lower pollution.

KCL researchers collected data from various cities in England to compare the number of emergencies between higher pollution days and low pollution days. They found that London had the highest additional cases (338) followed by Birmingham (65), Bristol (22), Derby (16), Liverpool (28), Manchester (34), Nottingham (19), Oxford (10), and Southampton (6).



The Guardian says that while most recent studies on air pollution focused on lifelong effects of exposure, extreme exposure can also cause serious illness immediately.

"Many people may not realize how dangerous air pollution at high levels can be, and that it can trigger heart attacks, strokes and asthma attacks as well as having long-term health effects," said Jenny Bates, an air pollution campaigner at Friends of the Earth.

"These figures will be a wake-up call for city leaders to take the strongest possible action."


Higher risk of illnesses

The statistics summary on the impact of air pollution also showed an increased risk of relevant illnesses. The risks varied per illness per city and showed if the effect is short- or long-term.

The risk for cardiac arrest was 2.3 percent higher on high pollution days in Birmingham and Nottingham, while Bristol and London both had 2.2 percent increased risks for cardiac arrest. Manchester saw the highest risk of cardiac arrest with 2.4 percent followed by Liverpool (two percent) and Oxford and Southampton with 1.9 percent.



Derby has the lowest risk of cardiac arrest (1.8 percent) but it showed the highest risk for stroke on high air pollution days (3.9 percent) followed by Nottingham (3.3 percent). Children and adults living in Derby are also at the highest risk of hospital admission due to asthma on high pollution days (6.2 percent and 2.1 percent, respectively).

Stunted lung growth in children and low birth weight were the three long-term risks that the research associated with high pollution levels. High air pollution stunts growth in children living in Oxford by 14.1 percent, the highest among the surveyed cities.

Oxford is also the city with the highest risk of babies being born underweight (0.4 percent) due to air pollution. It's followed by Birmingham and Bristol (0.2 percent) and the rest with 0.1 percent—except London, where there was no data on the subcategory.


A clearer picture of the impact

Focusing on hospital admissions for cardiac arrests, strokes, and asthma allowed researchers to provide a clearer picture of the effect of air pollution not only on people but also on emergency services. The results provide additional evidence supporting the need for further action in reducing air pollution, according to Heather Walton, a health expert with the environmental research group at KCL.

The English government promised to address air pollution in a proposed environment bill, with the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs saying the bill "will set ambitious, legally binding targets to reduce fine particulate matter and increase local powers to address key sources of air pollution."

However, there are worries that the proposed measures are too vague and too weak. Polly Billington said they want the bill to include the WHO's air pollution standards "with a legally binding timetable to meet them, as that creates certainty and enables long-term planning."


Air pollution increases the number of heart attacks and strokes worldwide / Photo Credit: Pixabay


Billington added, "The absence of significantly increased powers for local leaders, together with a lack of reference to the need for adequate funding, are the big holes in the bill that will hold action back." Billington is the director of UK100, a network of local government leaders across England aiming to shift to clean energy by 2050.

Air pollution has been associated with risks to adverse health effects and, to some degree, everyone is vulnerable to these impacts. The growing problem with high air pollution is taking a toll on people's well-being—not only in terms of an increased risk of diseases but also in terms of mortality.

Moving to a greener and less polluted area is off the table for many people, especially those who work in cities. The only way to lower these risks is to reduce air pollution through the implementation of strict environmental laws.