Published on July 27th, 2011 | by Jo Borrás
Bad News: Diesel Particle Emissions Cause Heart Attacks
Medical researchers at the University of Edinburgh have shown that chemical particles emitted by diesel exhaust fumes significantly increase the risk of heart attack in otherwise healthy adults.
That’s right, people: in addition to environmentally damaging carbon emissions, political strife, the deaths of hundreds of thousands of soldiers and civilians, the contamination of waterways, and devastating ecological impact (even when things are going “right”, like in Canada) we now have a fresh, new reason to hate big oil.
The research, funded by the British Heart Foundation, showed that it is these tiny diesel particulates, and not the gases, that noticeably impaired the function of small blood vessels and their ability to direct blood flow to the body’s organs (the heart, in particular). These particles can be filtered out of exhaust emissions through the use of particle traps (like those found in AdBlue and Bluetec cars, and those already being retro-fit to public transit vehicles here in the US) but these filters require consistent, expensive maintenance.
Considering the evident health risks, Professor Jeremy Pearson (Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation) believes that policy-makers should clamp down on diesel particle emissions – despite the costs involved – rather sooner than later. “Our research shows that while both gases and particles can affect our blood pressure, it is actually the miniscule chemical particles … that are really harmful. These particles produce highly reactive molecules called free radicals that can injure our blood vessels and lead to vascular disease, … in the future we can try and remove these chemicals, and prevent the health effects of vehicle emissions.”
Dr. Pearson’s team of researchers are now pushing for environmental health measures that are designed to reduce diesel particle emissions in the UK (where diesel cars are significantly more common than in the US) to be tested to determine whether they reduce the incidence of heart attack, as well as greenhouse gasses.
Until that happens, though, Pearson advises that “people with (existing) heart disease should avoid spending long periods outside or in areas where traffic pollution is likely to be high … or near busy roads.”