How Pollution Harms your Health

24 March 2002
Posted by Chris Smith.

It is fairly easy to understand why airborne pollution might be bad for your lungs and contribute to allergic conditions such as asthma, but it is more difficult to explain why, on days when pollution levels are very high, other illnesses, including fatal heart attacks, are much more common. To tackle this problem a group of researchers gave volunteers air to breathe containing tiny carbon particles, like those produced by engines. The carbon particles were labelled with a harmless radioactive substance which allowed the scientists to follow where the particles had gone after they were breathed in. They were surprised to find that the particles found their way into the bloodstream within as little as 1 minute of being breathed in, possibly explaining, they say, the link between pollution and illness affecting other parts of the body besides just the lungs. (Circulation 2002; 105:411-4)

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