Air pollution triggers higher likelihood of severe heart attacks, study shows

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SALT LAKE CITY– A study conducted in Utah reveals air pollution puts a person with heart disease at a high risk of a serious heart attack.

With northern Utah’s winter inversions, the report is prompting some worry. The findings aren’t surprising for clean air advocates, but reinforces their argument that bad air has long-lasting impacts on health.

Dr. Ken Meredith spoked to FOX 13 News via Skype from Orlando, Fla., where he and other researchers from Intermountain Medical Center laid out the findings of their study to the American Heart Association.

Researchers studied more than 16,000 Utahns who have heart disease from 1993 to 2014. They sought answers to two questions: How does air pollution affect heart attack risks? And which type of heart attack in particular?

“Obviously, with a sample size like that you can get a lot more of the detailed information about just how high the risk is, what categories are affected the most,” Meredith said.

Their data shows that if a person with heart disease was exposed to bad air quality, high levels of particulate matter 2.5, his or her risk of having a serious heart attack, known as STEMI, increases 15 percent.

However, the study does not prove air quality causes this type of heart attack.

“In other words, we can’t say for the average person who lives on the Wasatch Front that they’re going to have a 15 percent higher chance of a heart attack if they’re exposed to the same bad air quality,” Meredith said.

Ted Wilson, with the Utah Clean Air Coalition, said cleaning Utah’s air shouldn’t be taken lightly.

“It`s very clear that this situation is very serious,” Wilson said.

Wilson said the data should serve as a reminder for people to follow the Air Quality Index. Those with health disease should limit exposure on bad air quality days.

“To have the red alerts is very important to people’s information bank then they can change that day if they drive a car, maybe they’ll take TRAX,” Wilson said.

Researchers say the findings are a good springboard to pursue further studies.

“I think the next steps will be looking at what is it about the exposure to air pollution that is triggering these heart attack events,” Meredith said.

Click here to view the Intermountain Medical Center study.