Air pol­lu­tion ages lungs, in­creases dis­ease risk, study shows

The Prince George Citizen - - News - Jean-Benoit LE­GAULT

MON­TREAL — Ex­po­sure to air pol­lu­tion ac­cel­er­ates lung ag­ing and in­creases the risk of chronic ob­struc­tive pul­monary dis­ease, new re­search sug­gests.

Dr. Dany Do­iron and his col­leagues stud­ied the ex­po­sure of more than 300,000 peo­ple in Europe to par­tic­u­late mat­ter, fine par­ti­cles and ni­tro­gen diox­ide – sub­stances that come mainly from emis­sions by cars and fac­to­ries.

“We know that lung func­tion nor­mally de­clines as we age, but our study sug­gests that air pol­lu­tion may con­trib­ute to the ag­ing process and adds to the ev­i­dence that breath­ing in pol­luted air harms the lungs,” said Do­iron, a re­searcher at the Re­search In­sti­tute of the McGill Univer­sity Health Cen­tre. “We were sur­prised at the size of the as­so­ci­a­tion – so for each an­nual av­er­age ex­po­sure in­crease of five mi­cro­grams per cu­bic me­tre of fine par­tic­u­lates in the air that par­tic­i­pants were ex­posed to at home, the as­so­ci­ated re­duc­tions in lung func­tions were sim­i­lar to the ef­fect of two years of ag­ing.”

Re­searchers con­sid­ered a num­ber of fac­tors that could im­pact the health of their sub­jects’ lungs in­clud­ing age, sex, body mass in­dex, in­come, ed­u­ca­tion, em­ploy­ment, smok­ing and their ex­po­sure to sec­ond-hand smoke.

Such par­tic­u­lates are so thin that they can lodge deep in the lungs and con­trib­ute to chronic dis­eases. The World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion rec­om­mends av­er­age an­nual con­cen­tra­tions of not more than 10 mi­cro­grams per cu­bic me­tre of air.

There was a 52 per cent in­crease in the odds of COPD for each five-mi­cro­gramsper-cu­bic-me­tre in­crease of fine par­tic­u­late ex­po­sure, Do­iron said.

COPD is a long-term con­di­tion linked to re­duced lung func­tion that causes in­flam­ma­tion in the lungs and a nar­row­ing of air­ways mak­ing it dif­fi­cult to breathe. The study said it’s the third lead­ing cause of death in the world and the num­bers are ex­pected to rise over the next decade.

Those from less af­flu­ent back­grounds seemed par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble to the ef­fects of air pol­lu­tion.

The study found the im­pact of pol­lu­tion on lung func­tion was twice as high among less for­tu­nate par­tic­i­pants, and their risk of COPD was three times greater.

“This is prob­a­bly due to a num­ber of fac­tors, in­clud­ing a greater num­ber of res­pi­ra­tory in­fec­tions in chil­dren, poor hous­ing and in­door air qual­ity, and other con­di­tions,” Do­iron said.

Those re­sults are all the more con­cern­ing as the air qual­ity was not mea­sured in highly pol­luted cities like Delhi, Bei­jing or Jakarta.

“There have been sig­nif­i­cant re­duc­tions in lung func­tion even at rel­a­tively low con­cen­tra­tions of... fine par­ti­cles,” said Do­iron.

“Our re­sults un­der­line the im­por­tance of tak­ing more ac­tion to fight against air pol­lu­tion in our cities.”

The study on Euro­pean pop­u­la­tions was one of the largest to date to ex­am­ine the as­so­ci­a­tions be­tween air pol­lu­tion ex­po­sure, lung func­tion and COPD and gave re­searchers the sta­tis­ti­cal power to make the as­so­ci­a­tions more pre­cisely, Do­iron said.

“It was over 10 times larger than pre­vi­ous stud­ies in terms of num­bers of in­di­vid­u­als in­volved on Euro­pean pop­u­la­tions,” he added.

The find­ings of the study were pub­lished this week in the Euro­pean Res­pi­ra­tory Jour­nal.


A bird flies past as smoke emits from the chim­neys of Ser­bia’s main coal-fired power sta­tion near Kos­to­lac, Ser­bia.

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