Cardiologists call for urgent action on pollution

Nine million deaths caused by pollution - Newsreel
Cardiologists are warning that climate change and toxins in the air are claiming millions of lives each year. | Photo: Khanchit Khirisutchalual (iStock)

Prominent cardiologists have called for a major offensive against pollution, saying it is a bigger health threat than war, terrorism and major diseases.

A series of articles published today in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology highlight the huge impact of pollution on heart disease.

This included the impacts of “global warming, air pollution and exposure to wildfire smoke, and…the lesser-known drivers of heart disease including soil, noise and light pollution, and exposure to toxic chemicals”.

The articles conclude that pollution in all of its forms is a greater threat than war, terrorism, malaria, HIV, tuberculosis, drugs and alcohol combined.

Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute Director and CEO Jason Kovacic said there needed to be greater recognition of the role pollution played in an estimated nine million deaths globally each year.

“Every year around 20 million people worldwide die from cardiovascular disease with pollutants playing an ever-increasing role,” Professor Kovacic said.

“Pollutants have reached every corner of the globe and are affecting every one of us. We are witnessing unprecedented wildfires, soaring temperatures, unacceptable road noise and light pollution in our cities and exposure to untested toxic chemicals in our homes.

“Our bodies are being bombarded with pollutants from every angle and they are taking a toll on our heart health. The evidence suggests that the number of people dying prematurely because of these very different forms of pollution is far higher than currently recognised.”

The research papers said smoke and other toxins could be directly inhaled deep into the lower respiratory tract and reach the blood and then be transported to other organs and throughout our bodies.

They could cause “oxidative stress” which could damage cells and organs, including the heart.

Other pollutants like noise and light pollution could affect sleep patterns, drive inflammation and lead to an increase in blood pressure and weight gain.

Extreme heat could lead to dehydration, decreased blood volume, increased cardiovascular strain, and acute kidney failure.

Professor Kovacic said, while some impacts were well know, there were still huge gaps in our understanding of the link between pollutants and heart disease.

“There are hundreds of thousands of chemicals that haven’t even been tested for their safety or toxicity, let alone their impact on our health,” he said.

“We also need to discover if there are other risk factors that make people more susceptible – such as pre-existing conditions, lifestyle factors or where they live.”

The researchers who authored the articles were from the  the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute, University of Edinburgh, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, Global Observatory on Planetary Health Boston College, Centre Scientifique de Monaco and the  University Medical Centre Mainz.

The team of researchers make a series of recommendations including:

  • The implementation of heart-healthy changes to city design such as increasing tree cover, safe means of active travel and reduced use of vehicles.
  • Ending subsidies to the fossil fuel industry to enable more investment in renewables and cleaner energy production.
  • Public health campaigns about the dangers of air pollution.
  • Medical education to better reflect the growing dangers of pollutants.