Even an exposure of a few hours to ambient ultrafine particles common in polluted air could trigger nonfatal heart attacks, finds a Yale university study. Ultrafine particles or UFP, 100 nanometres or smaller in size, can cause myocardial infarction, says the study led by Kai Chen, assistant professor at Yale School of Public Health.
Though it was long believed that UFP exposure causes heart attacks, it was not based on any scientific research. The new study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives may be the first one on the link between the exposure to ultrafine particles and heart attacks that used the number and size of particles as well as surface area concentrations at hourly intervals.
Automobile emissions are the largest source of ultrafine particles in cities. The study emphasises the harm caused by hydrocarbon fuels and highlights the need of electric vehicle technologies. High levels of ultrafine particles are a serious public health concern because of their small size, large surface areas, and the ability to get into the blood system. Though there are at least 200 published studies, none had provided epidemiological evidence of a causal relationship.
Chen and his team studied if UFP exposure could result in heart attacks and developed new metrics to improve the investigation of the effect of ultrafine particles on health. The team studied data from a registry of nonfatal myocardial infarctions in the German town of Augsburg. They studied 5,898 nonfatal heart attack patients in the 10 years up to 2015. The cases were matched with air pollution data at the time and adjusted it for some additional factors.
Another study led by Renyi Zhang, professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M University, confirmed that auto exhaust is responsible for the creation of large amounts ultrafine particles, which affects human health and are linked to birth defects. The study strongly recommended electric cars, but it would take years before battery vehicles make a sizable chunk of the total number of vehicles.