Study Results From the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48106-0739, USA. September, 2008.
Air pollution is a heterogeneous mixture of gases, liquids and PM (particulate matter). In the modern urban world, PM is principally derived from fossil fuel combustion with individual constituents varying in size from a few nanometres to 10 microm in diameter. In addition to the ambient concentration, the pollution source and chemical composition may play roles in determining the biological toxicity and subsequent health effects.
Nevertheless, studies from across the world have consistently shown that both short and long-term exposures to PM are associated with a host of cardiovascular diseases, including myocardial ischaemia and infarctions, heart failure, arrhythmias, strokes and increased cardiovascular mortality.
Evidence from cellular/toxicological experiments, controlled animal and human exposures and human panel studies have demonstrated several mechanisms by which particle exposure may both trigger acute events as well as prompt the chronic development of cardiovascular diseases.
PM inhaled into the pulmonary tree may instigate remote cardiovascular health effects via three general pathways: instigation of systemic inflammation and/or oxidative stress, alterations in autonomic balance, and potentially by direct actions upon the vasculature of particle constituents capable of reaching the systemic circulation. In turn, these responses have been shown to trigger acute arterial vasoconstriction, endothelial dysfunction, arrhythmias and pro-coagulant/thrombotic actions.
Finally, long-term exposure has been shown to enhance the chronic genesis of atherosclerosis. Although the risk to one individual at any single time point is small, given the prodigious number of people continuously exposed, PM air pollution imparts a tremendous burden to the global public health, ranking it as the 13th leading cause of morality (approx. 800,000 annual deaths).