Air pollution may be damaging every organ and virtually every cell in the human body, according to a comprehensive new global review.
The research shows head-to-toe harm – from heart and lung disease to diabetes and dementia, and from liver problems and bladder cancer to brittle bones and damaged skin. Fertility, foetuses and children are also affected by toxic air, the review found.
The systemic damage is the result of pollutants causing inflammation that then floods through the body and ultrafine particles being carried around the body by the bloodstream.
Air pollution is a “public health emergency”, according to the World Health Organization, with more than 90% of the global population enduring toxic outdoor air. New analysis indicates 8.8m early deaths each year – double earlier estimates – making air pollution a bigger killer than tobacco smoking.
But the impact of different pollutants on many ailments remains to be established, suggesting well-known heart and lung damage is only “the tip of the iceberg”.
“Air pollution can harm acutely, as well as chronically, potentially affecting every organ in the body,” conclude the scientists from the Forum of International Respiratory Societies (FIRS) in the two review papers, publishedin the journal Chest. “Ultrafine particles pass through the [lungs], are readily picked up by cells and carried via the bloodstream to expose virtually all cells in the body.”
Prof Dean Schraufnagel, at the University of Illinois at Chicago and who led the reviews, said: “I wouldn’t be surprised if almost every organ was affected. If something is missing [from the review] it is probably because there was no research yet.”
The review represents “very strong science”, said Dr Maria Neira, WHO director of public and environmental health: “It adds to the very heavy evidence we have already. There are more than 70,000 scientific papers to demonstrate that air pollution is affecting our health.”
She said she expected even more impacts of air pollution to be shown by future research: “Issues like Parkinson’s or autism, for which there is some evidence but maybe not the very strong linkages, that evidence is coming now.”
Source – CHEST Journal