A newly published study conducted by researchers at the Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine and published in the Journal of the American Health Association (AHA) claims to have identified a cause of sudden cardiac death in otherwise healthy adolescents. The culprit is none other than air pollution.
The AHA notes that, “Sudden cardiac death is a major public health threat,” and “although relatively rare, SCD among otherwise healthy children and youths, including world-class athletes, has a devastating impact on their families. . . . it is of great public health importance to identify modifiable risk factors for cardiac arrhythmias among children and adolescents.”
The study analyzed data collected from 322 adolescents who participated in the PSCC (Penn State Child Cohort) follow‐up examination. Fine particles called PM2.5 (smaller than 2.5 microns) were measured and correlated with heart arrhythmias, which are known to increase the risk of heart disease and sudden cardiac death. The study found that within two hours of exposure, there was a measurable impact on ventricular arrhythmia (irregular heartbeats).
The study found that arrhythmic events tend to occur in the early morning, even though air pollution levels at that time of day are low. Furthermore, “the increased risk . . . was observed at a PM2.5 concentration . . . well under the primary standard . . . established by the US Environmental Protection Agency.” In fact, increased risk was correlated with air pollution levels considered extremely low, an average of 17 micrograms per cubic meter. In contrast, in the UK levels of up to double that amount are considered “low-level”.
The study’s authors described their findings as “extremely alarming”.
Study lead author Dr Fan He told The Guardian, “Our findings suggest air pollution could trigger arrhythmias and contribute to sudden cardiac death among youth. . . . Wearing face masks and avoiding vigorous physical activities on highly polluted days and during rush-hours can reduce the amount of air pollution exposure and minimize the associated health risks.”
The Guardian added that, “Vehicle exhausts and combustion in the manufacturing and construction industries are a major source of PM2.5s. . . . Once inhaled, they can reach deep into the lungs and even the blood vessels where they cause inflammation that drives disease.”
Although the study was published just this week, neither The Guardian nor the AHA made any reference to the fact that the research behind it was conducted almost 10 years ago, nor was any explanation given as to why it has only now been published.