A recent study out of the Harvard School of Public Health found a strong link between air pollution and deep vein thrombosis (DVT)--a dangerous type of blood clot that forms in the thighs or legs and can travel to the lungs. After comparing health records of 870 people diagnosed with DVT in Lombardy, Italy, to the records of 1210 people who did not develop clots, the research team discovered a dramatic rise in risk factor at pollution levels far below the EPA's standard for particulate air pollution. The lowest level of pollution recorded in the study was 12 micrograms per cubic meter of air; the EPA standard is 150 mcg per cubic meter. The researchers found that for every 10-microgram increase in pollution above the 12-mcg level, risk goes up by 70 percent.
Study director Dr. Andrea Baccarelli, said "It is well-established that air pollution causes myocardial infarction [heart attack] and stroke. This is the first time that anyone has connected air pollution with deep vein thrombosis."
The dangerous particulate matter causing the problems is usually a blend of microscopic particles from sources such as vehicle emissions, particularly diesel, the burning of industrial fossil fuels, as well as from woodstove fires, dust storms, and natural fires. The effects of inhaling air pollute with particulate matter are much like the effects of breathing second-hand smoke. Because the particles are so small, they can lodge in lungs and internal organs and travel in the bloodstream like oxygen. Scientists already knew that pollution spikes the incidence of lung problems ranging from asthma complications to lung cancer. And studies have found that exposure to pollution from car fumes triples the risk of heart attack in heart-attack survivors. The EPA says that 65,000 Americans suffer pollution-related cardiac problems each year.
Those estimates seem quite conservative in the face of a new study released by the California Air Resources Board, which found that 24,000 deaths annually in California result from chronic exposure to pollution. Chief researcher Bart Croes said, "Our report concludes these particles are 70% more dangerous than previously thought, based on several major studies that have occurred in the last five years." According to the LA Tiimes, "....rates of heart attacks, strokes and other serious disease increase exponentially after exposure to even slightly higher amounts of metal or dust." And other sources, notably Dr Robert D Brook of the University of Michigan, say that air pollution ranks number 13 among the world's killers.
Now, we can add DVT to the list of pollution-related bugaboos -- and that's no trifle, as the condition is fatal in one-third of the cases left untreated. If you're worried, note that the pollution-DVT link is stronger for men than for women and virtually nonexistent for women on hormone therapy or the pill (and no, I'm not recommending that you get on HRT or the pill).
So what can you do to minimize damage from pollution, short of moving to Tasmania? Well, you can stop taking pollution, smog, and haze as a given. This means monitoring pollution levels where you are. Several websites offer up-to-the-minute air-quality info, and you can even have daily updates emailed to you reporting pollution levels in your area from a service called EnviroFlash.
On smoggy days, it's risky to exercise outdoors, and in general, you should opt to exercise away from highways, factories, and fires. Stay away from burning trash. If your county has no-burn laws, make sure your neighbors comply. If you don't have laws limiting the burning of trash, get active and contact your legislators. Unfortunately, the same goes for fireplaces-- romantic though they are. An EPA study found that breathing emissions from burning wood fires on polluted days is equivalent to smoking four to 16 cigarettes.
You can find suggestions for 50 ways to minimize both your exposure to air pollution and your contribution to it here. You'll notice, though, that most of the ideas involve taking action that won't necessarily protect you in the moment. For instance, advocating the abolition of diesel-operated busses may eventually pay off, but it won't protect you today, and you need buy-in from others before this measure takes hold.
That's why it really pays to do those things that you do have control over:
- Complete your heavy metal detoxing regularly since heavy metal concentrations are high in most air pollution.
- Use a daily full spectrum antioxidant supplement to mitigate much of the damage.
- Supplement with a good proteolytic enzyme formula to help control DVT.
- Cleanse your blood and internal systems.
- Clean the air in your house using a good filter or ion system.
- Check the radon levels in your house -- easy and not expensive.
- And maybe consider that move to Tasmania, after all. Or if you don't want to live down under, you can check this list of the places that have the world's cleanest air.