John VidalWed 8 Aug 2018 06.00 BST
New studies linking heart disease to supposedly ‘safe’ levels of pollution lay bare the human cost of using fossil fuels
Three years ago I had a heart operation that will have cost the NHS tens of thousands of pounds, and which made me rethink how we lived and how I had got into this mess. I had always kept pretty fit, I thought: I ate well, loved exercise and had long stopped smoking. I thought I was active and healthy. So what else was there that could have contributed to my heart disease, Britain’s costliest and most prevalent killer, and the world’s greatest epidemic?
Last week came solid evidence that living in toxic Britain can seriously harm your health. Cardiologists at Queen Mary University of London found that even “safe” levels of air pollution are linked to heart abnormalities similar to those seen during the early stages of heart failure. Their study of almost 4,000 people was backed up by a major US study which showed that higher exposure to fine particles and nitrogen oxides is linked to an acceleration in the hardening of the arteries.
We have long known that air pollution leads to coughing, shortness of breath and irritation in the eyes, nose and throat. It is also clearly linked to respiratory diseases such as asthma and bronchitis, as well as diabetes and some cancers. But the more researchers look at people’s long-term exposure to air pollution, the worse the picture gets, and the more dangerous the minute particles and chemicals emitted by sources including fossil fuels are found to be. It is now beyond doubt that children’s health is greatly affected, and links have been made between it and Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, dementia and congenital birth defects.