Edinburgh, Scotland – Diesel fumes pose a risk to heart health as well as to lungs and can raise the risk of heart attacks, according to a new study by the University of Edinburgh.

Scientists have found that ultra-fine particles produced when diesel burns are harmful to blood vessels and can increase the chances of blood clots forming in arteries, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke.

The research, funded by the British Heart Foundation and carried out by the University of Edinburgh, measured the impact of diesel exhaust fumes on healthy volunteers at levels that would be found in heavily polluted cities.

The scientists compared how people reacted to the gases found in diesel fumes, such as carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide, to their reaction to the ultra-fine chemical particles from exhaust. They found that the tiny particles, and not the gases, impaired the function of blood vessels that control how blood is channelled to the body’s organs. The particles can be filtered out of exhaust emissions through particle traps, which are already being retrofitted to public transport vehicles in the U.S., the researchers said.

“While many people tend to think of the effects of air pollution in terms of damage to the lungs, there is strong evidence that it has an impact on the heart and blood vessels as well,” said Dr. Mark Miller, of the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Cardiovascular Science. “Our research shows that while both gases and particles can affect our blood pressure, it is actually the minuscule chemical particles that are emitted by car exhausts that are really harmful. These particles produce highly reactive molecules called free radicals that can injure our blood vessels and lead to vascular disease. We are now investigating which of the chemicals carried by these particles cause these harmful actions, so that in the future we can try and remove these chemicals, and prevent the health effects of vehicle emissions.”

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