On the heels of a National Research Council study that found that breathing dirty can be deadly, an Italian study finds that particulates tiny chemical droplets and bits of soot and dust can heighten the risk of blood clots in the legs and thighs, a condition known a deep vein thrombosis.
Scientists have for several years reported on the troubling ways in which these tiny particles can damage lung tissue and enter the blood stream through the lungs. Heart attack risk is also elevated by breathing dirty air.
The danger of the small particles, known as PM10 because they are smaller than 10 micrometers in diameter, has been well established, and laws are in place to reduce pollution from diesel engines, factories and power plants because of the particulate pollution they produce.
Here's how the Washington Post described the research:
"The scientists compared the exposure to such pollution on 870 residents of the Lombardy region of Italy who had been diagnosed with deep vein thrombosis, and 1,210 residents who did not have deep vein thrombosis. The researchers used the average concentration of particulate matter measured by monitors at 53 sites.
"Compensating for other environmental and health factors, the researchers found that the risk of deep vein thrombosis increased by 70% for every increase in particulate matter of 10 micrograms per square meter. Tests showed that the blood of people more exposed to such pollution took less time to form clots."
The previous analysis, by the National Research Council, focused on ozone, another major air pollutant and component of smog. It found that exposure to ozone increases the risk of premature death.
Ozone is the main component of smog (it's beneficial in the stratosphere, but damages the lungs at ground level). It's primarily a summertime pollutant, and many Americans are familiar with ozone alerts on hot, sunny days. That's because tailpipe and smokestack pollution reacts in the hot sun to form ozone, which can penetrate deep into the lungs, causing scarring, coughing fits and other damage.
That damage makes certain people those with pre-existing lung disease, for instance susceptible to death by breathing dirty air, but it doesn't just claim the lives of those just a few days from death already, according to the new research. In other words, it won't cut you down in the prime of life, but it won't wait for the exit stage left cue either.
Both studies add weight to the argument that cleaning the air is an important facet of improving public health.
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