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Swiss, American and Spanish researchers found particulates from exhaust pipes can lead to the thickening of artery walls – increasing chances of a heart attack or stroke.

The study used ultrasound readings to measure the carotid artery wall thickness of 1,483 people who lived near motorways in the Los Angeles, California area.

Taking measurements every six months for three years the researchers correlated them with estimates of outdoor particulate levels at the participants’ homes.

Artery wall thickness among those living within 100 metres (328 feet) of a road increased by 5.5 micrometres – one-twentieth the thickness of a human hair – per year, or more than twice the average progression observed in study participants.

Study co-author, Michael Jerrett, a University of California Berkeley associate professor of environmental health sciences said we might have to review the way we deal with road pollution.

He said: “For the first time, we have shown air pollution contributes to the early formation of heart disease, which is connected to nearly half the deaths in western societies and to a growing proportion of deaths in the rapidly industrialising nations of Asia and Latin America.

“The implications are that by controlling air pollution from traffic, we may see much larger benefits to public health than we thought previously.

“This study fills an important gap between studies linking mortality to air pollution and those that have reported short-term changes in blood pressure.”

Luke Walsh

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