Scientists urge crackdown on air pollution to help heart health

Scientists at the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute are calling for the consideration of a raft of air pollution measures to address heart disease, including face masks when air quality is poor, a crackdown on emissions from factories and road congestions, and tough policies to regulate air pollution.

In a paper published in BioEssays, the researchers at the Institute collated evidence from around the globe demonstrating the profound effects of pollution on heart health.

“Air pollutants are a major global health challenge but their effects on the heart and blood vessels are particularly worrying,” says Executive Director of the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute, Professor Jason Kovacic.

“We’ve been able to review the dramatic differences over the last two years on heart health due to the bushfires and Covid-19.

“Through the bushfires, millions of Australians experienced days when it was hard to breath and even dangerous to venture outside, which led to a spike in cases of cardiovascular disease.

“We then saw the very opposite when our cities were quiet, factories closed, and cars stayed home during Covid-19.

“We now need our government in Australia, and countries around the world to introduce measures to keep air pollution and carbon emission levels low permanently.

“With almost a third of cardiovascular deaths attributable to air pollution this could save tens, if not hundreds of thousands of lives.”

Co-author Dr Kathryn Wolhuter of the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute says the pandemic could produce a silver lining if action was taken on air pollution levels.

“Perhaps a positive to what everyone has been through is recognising that tougher measures are needed to improve to quality of the air we breathe. Clean air benefits us all and saves lives,” she says.

“Reducing air pollution levels could be one of the most important steps we take after Covid-19.

“We have seen the clear benefits in lives saved and costs to the health system. Now that we know the impact it would be incredibly remiss of us not to act.”

The paper highlights air pollution legislation enacted by countries overseas, which could be adopted here in Australia.

This includes the enforced use of higher quality gasoline and measures put in place during the Beijing Olympics, which restricted power plant operation times and reduced road traffic congestion.

Public health campaigns to encouraging people to wear face masks during times of high air pollution could also be adopted.

To read the paper, visit: onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/bies.202100046

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