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Like a diet high in sodium: road pollution can cause an increase in blood pressure – study | Pollution


Study finds increased blood pressure can last up to 24 hours and contribute to cardiovascular problems

Wed November 29, 2023 3:47 PM EST

Being stuck in traffic is one of the most common stressors that millions of Americans face every day. Bumper-to-bumper traffic can come at the expense of wasted gasoline, environmental pollution and, new research shows, even spikes in blood pressure.

Air pollution from car traffic can cause a significant increase in blood pressure that can last up to 24 hours, according to a study led by the University of Washington. This spike is comparable to the effect of a high-sodium diet and may contribute to cardiovascular problems. Long-term exposure to vehicle exhaust has been widely linked to respiratory problems such as asthma, particularly in children.

“Air pollution from traffic increases blood pressure within an hour of driving and remains elevated a day later,” said study author Joel Kaufman, a physician and professor of science at environment and occupational health at the University of Washington.

Sixteen healthy people, ages 22 to 45, took three separate trips as passengers during Seattle rush hour. Two of those trips were “unfiltered,” meaning air from the road could enter the car, as is the case for many drivers on the road today. On the third trip, a Hepa (high-efficiency particulate absorber) filter was installed in the car, with participants not knowing which trip was equipped with filtration. The researchers measured the passengers’ blood pressure before, during and after the two-hour journey.

Breathing unfiltered air caused blood pressure to increase by more than 4.5 mm Hg (millimeters of mercury) compared to filtered air. Most of the pollution came from exhaust fumes or the burning of fossil fuels, as well as brake and tire wear. The filters were most effective in reducing ultrafine particles (86% decrease), black carbon, which mainly comes from diesel (86%), and PM2.5 (60%), while gases like carbon dioxide carbon and nitrogen oxide were not affected.

“The clue here is that these smaller particles are probably responsible for the difference in blood pressure,” Kaufman said.

In the United States, people of color are more likely to live near highways. The Federal Highway Act of 1956 spurred the construction of 41,000 miles of Interstate Highway System that bulldozed communities of color, divided neighborhoods, and devalued property – all while perpetuating air pollution.

“Historical disinvestment practices have led to stark racial disparities in traffic-related air pollution in the United States,” said Sara Adar, associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. , who did not participate in the study. “Neighborhoods marked with a red line were more often disrupted by highway development than white neighborhoods. »

Improving traffic flow and reducing driving with fossil fuel vehicles are among the societal solutions Kaufman considers effective. On an individual level, avoiding these exposures by spending less time in traffic jams is the best possible action. If that’s not possible, closing the windows, getting a car filter, and putting the air on recirculation mode can also help. If you cannot control the ventilation system – for example on public transport – wearing an effective respiratory mask can offer protection.

“If you live in an area with significant air pollution, you want to keep your windows closed and have air filtration capacity in your home,” Kaufman said.

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