EU's PM2.5 Limit Festering: New Study Linked PM with Heart Attack

Air-pollutionAir pollution is a significant determinant of human health. Over the past decades, studies conducted in various parts of the world documented a number of hazardous effects of ambient air pollution on health.

The adverse effects of particulate matter (PM) on health are especially well documented. However, while there is no evident and appropriate safe level of exposure, the PM issue has been seriously underestimated in most of the developing countries, particularly countries in Middle East and South Asia. But it was hard for me to believe that the EU limit for PM 2.5 is still more than twice that recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Moreover, a new study published January 21, 2014 by the British Medical Journal suggested that long-term exposure to particulate matter increases the risk of heart attack. Shockingly, the study also reported that PM exposure was observed in levels below the current specified European limit values.

For the study, scientists evaluated data from more than 100,000 participants in Europe. At enrollment, these individuals were found with no history of cardiovascular diseases. They were followed for an average of 11.5 years. During the follow-up period, a total of 5,157 individuals had coronary events such as heart attack or angina. The study found that an increase of annual exposure to PM 2.5 air pollutants of just 5µg/m3 was associated with a 13 percent increased risk of coronary events, even taking into account other risk factors such as smoking or high blood pressure.

However, the EU clean air standard isn't challenged for the first time. Last year, many researchers urged it when a new WHO scientific report on PM 2.5 published on January 31, 2013.

The Ambient Air Quality Directive of EU is still more than twice as high as the 2005 AQGs of WHO. As a result, today more than 80% Europeans are standing above the WHO standards for particulate matter. In addition, on average, this exposure to PM deprives each resident of 8.6 months of life.

In 2008, the EU directive established an annual average PM 2.5 threshold level of 25 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3), to be met by 2015 and suggested another threshold level of 20 µg/m3 from 2020. On the other hand, the 2005 AQGs of WHO established that the annual average threshold level for PM2.5 should be 10 µg/m3.
According to the WHO report, long-term exposure to airborne particulate (PM 2.5) are associated with both cardiovascular mortality and morbidity and can trigger several detrimental consequences for health, including atherosclerosis, adverse birth results and childhood respiratory illness.

The report also noted possible links between PM 2.5 and chronic health conditions, including neurodevelopment disorders, poor cognitive function, diabetes, and respiratory diseases. Besides suggesting lower PM2.5 level, the WHO report recommended a new Air Quality Guidelines (AQGs) for vehicle engines, power generation, and nitrogen dioxide (NO2). In addition, the report suggested AQGs for long-term average ozone (O3) concentrations, as well.

There is no doubt that the EU limit for PM2.5 is not enough to reduce health risks, though the WHO report came as a shock and stirred the policy makers of EU. Yet, the European Commission has decided to revamp and tighten its policies, where needed.

However, I'm really in doubt about the release of a new review from EU. The EU was expected to revamp its PM 2.5 limit before the end of 2013. But, still, there is no sign of changes in the EU policies on air pollution. Experts believe the change can't be implemented ahead of EU elections.
Haze in Kuala Lumpur
Description: Smog from motorized vehicles is one of the common environmental problems in large cities of Asia and Southeast Asia (Haze in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia).

Journal Reference

Cesaroni G, Forastiere F, Stafoggia M, Andersen ZJ, Badaloni C, Beelen R, Caracciolo B, de Faire U, Erbel R, Eriksen KT, Fratiglioni L, Galassi C, Hampel R, Heier M, Hennig F, Hilding A, Hoffmann B, Houthuijs D, Jöckel KH, Korek M, Lanki T, Leander K, Magnusson PK, Migliore E, Ostenson CG, Overvad K, Pedersen NL, J JP, Penell J, Pershagen G, Pyko A, Raaschou-Nielsen O, Ranzi A, Ricceri F, Sacerdote C, Salomaa V, Swart W, Turunen AW, Vineis P, Weinmayr G, Wolf K, de Hoogh K, Hoek G, Brunekreef B, & Peters A (2014). Long term exposure to ambient air pollution and incidence of acute coronary events: prospective cohort study and meta-analysis in 11 European cohorts from the ESCAPE Project. BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 348 PMID: 24452269

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