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Fine dust and noise: a danger to the heart

Status: 11/19/2018 3:34 p.m. | archive
Particulate matter is produced every time it is burned, for example in a car engine.

Fine dust apparently plays a decisive role in the increase in cardiovascular diseases. New studies show that more people get sick and die from bad air than previously thought. Some experts consider particulate matter pollution to be even more dangerous than nitrogen oxides, the irritant gases that are currently being discussed in connection with insufficiently detoxified diesel engines and impending driving bans. On busy roads, particulate matter often occurs together with nitrogen oxides and a high level of noise pollution. This can increase the harmful effects on health.

It is estimated that four to six million people worldwide die as a result of air pollution. The greatest pollution can be measured on major roads and in ports. But the wind can spread fine dust from large cities up to 500 kilometers across the country.

Fine dust is created when burning

Fine dust consists of particles that are smaller than a hundredth of a millimeter. They arise in every combustion process, for example in the engines of cars (diesel and gasoline direct injection) and ships, in lignite power plants, but also when burning candles.

A third of the fine dust consists of particles that are created by chemical reactions of different substances. For example, nitrogen dioxide reacts with the ammonia emissions from intensive animal husbandry in the air to form ammonium nitrate - secondary fine dust. In this way, industrial agriculture also contributes to fine dust pollution.

Particles of fine dust include dust, soot, metal particles and chemicals. When cheap heavy fuel oil is burned in ship engines, fine dust is produced, which contains many carcinogenic and inflammatory substances.

Fine dust in the lungs increases the risk of cancer

The inhalable fine dust, larger particles up to ten micrometers, catch hair and mucus in the nose when inhaled and transport it out of the body. The respirable particulate matter However, up to 2.5 micrometers gets into the lungs and becomes lodged there.

Experts suspect that the body initially defends itself against the substances. However, if too much fine dust gets into the lungs, it will no longer be able to do so. This creates chronic inflammation that can increase the risk of cancer.

A study with 5,000 women from the Ruhr area and women who live in rural areas has shown that those who are exposed to high levels of particulate matter have a lower lung volume. In addition, the respirable particles can interact with receptors in the alveoli and thereby influence the autonomic nervous system.

Ultrafine particles get into the whole body

Part of the fine dust consists of ultrafine particles (smaller than 0.1 micrometers) that penetrate even deeper into the body. If they get into the alveoli, where the gas exchange takes place in the blood, they are transported with the blood to all organs. Then the blood vessels and the heart in particular are at risk, because in the long run the particles can lead to chronic inflammation there too. Atherosclerosis, heart attack and stroke can be the consequences. Damage to the brain is also conceivable. The long-term effects of particulate matter on health have not yet been adequately researched.

Noise and fine dust work together

Fine dust and noise put the body under stress. It has long been known that people who are exposed to aircraft noise are more likely to suffer from high blood pressure. In a study by the University of Mainz, the researchers found that even a single night of simulated aircraft noise led to a measurable stiffening of the blood vessels of test subjects. The scientists recognized that fine dust and noise damage the inner skin of the blood vessels (endothelium) and thus lead to arteriosclerosis.

Limit values ​​for fine dust pollution

Scientists criticize the fine dust limit values ​​of 25 micrograms per cubic meter that apply in Europe as too high. They are calling for a reduction to levels similar to the United States (12 micrograms per cubic meter), Canada (10 micrograms per cubic meter) or Australia (8 micrograms per cubic meter).

Reduce pollution with fine dust

You can only protect yourself against fine dust pollution to a limited extent. Those who do without a car or cruises can help keep air pollution as low as possible.

When buying a new car, pollutant emissions should also be taken into account. Alternative drive systems such as modern hybrid, electric or gas engines offer advantages over diesel engines or gasoline engines with direct injection.

On busy roads and in port areas, particularly high concentrations of fine dust, nitrogen oxide and ozone are usually measured in the air. You should protect yourself there and avoid jogging, cycling or walking if possible. In particular during sporting activity, you breathe in more often and deeply - this means that more pollutants get into the lungs.

Smokers can reduce their particulate matter pollution particularly effectively - by quitting smoking. Because each cigarette corresponds to about an hour of intensive exhaust gas consumption.

Experts on the subject

Prof. Dr. Johannes Lelieveld, atmospheric researcher
Atmospheric Chemistry Department
Max Planck Institute for Chemistry
Hahn-Meitner-Weg 1
55128 Mainz

Univ.-Prof. Dr. Thomas Münzel, director
Cardiology I at the Center for Cardiology
Mainz University Medical Center
Langenbeckstrasse 1
55131 Mainz
(06131) 17-72 51

Dr. Rüdiger Bock, specialist in internal medicine, pulmonary and bronchial medicine, allergology
Lung practice in the Alstertal
Poppenbüttler Hauptstrasse 13
22399 Hamburg

Univ.-Prof. Dr. rer. nat. et med. habil. Andreas Daiber, head
Molecular Cardiology Working Group
Cardiology I at the Center for Cardiology
Mainz University Medical Center
Langenbeckstrasse 1
55131 Mainz

additional Information
German Heart Foundation V.
Bockenheimer Landstrasse 94-96
60323 Frankfurt am Main
(069) 955 12 80

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