Air pollution a major cause of heart disease

By June Shannon Policy News   |   4th Nov 2019

Ireland’s first ever Climate Change Action Plan for Health has been published by the Department of Health and the HSE

The health effects of climate change will have the biggest impact on the most vulnerable including those living with chronic conditions such as heart disease and stroke, the elderly and people from lower socioeconomic groups, a new report has warned.

According to Ireland’s first ever Climate Change Adaption Plan for the Health Sector, which was published recently by the Minister for Health, Simon Harris TD, “people with respiratory and cardiac diseases are more likely to have a worsening of their health due to air pollution.”

The Climate Change Adaptation Plan for the health sector (2019 – 2024), sets out the main climate change-related risks and vulnerabilities expected to be faced in the health sector in the next five years and beyond and proposes a number of actions that need to be taken to address these risks.

The plan identifies six main climate scenarios with the most profound health implications. Two of the six relate to slow onset climate effects over time; UV radiation and air pollution; and four scenarios concern acute, severe weather events; windstorms, extreme heat and heatwaves, heavy rainfall and flooding and extreme cold snaps.

The Climate Change Adaptation Plan for the health sector (2019 – 2024) was developed by a joint team of officials and doctors from the Department of Health and the HSE, following a public consultation.

" The execution of a robust climate change adaptation plan is an important component of any strategy to protect the cardiovascular health of the nation as the climate crisis intensifies,"

Chirs Macey, Head of Advocacy , Irish Heart Foundation

The Irish Heart Foundation was one of a number of organisations to make a submission to the Plan and according to Mr Chris Macey, Head of Advocacy for the Irish Heart Foundation, “From the Irish Heart Foundation’s standpoint, the execution of a robust climate change adaptation plan is an important component of any strategy to protect the cardiovascular health of the nation as the climate crisis intensifies. However, an adaptation plan cannot be developed in isolation from a health specific mitigation plan that is equally robust and will empower both the health sector and the health professionals working in it to maximise their contribution to climate action.”

In its submission the Irish Heart Foundation notes that the links between air pollution and heart attack have been well established.

When we inhale pollutants in the air this leads to an inflammatory response which is believed to accelerate atherosclerosis – a disease in which plaques build up in your arteries and can lead to serious problems including heart attack or stroke.

Damage to the blood vessels from air pollution can lead to increases in blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, heart attacks and heart failure.

Air pollution has also been shown to increase both blood coagulation (clotting) and platelet activation, which promotes the formation of blood clots. This effect is particularly notable after inhaling diesel exhaust fumes.

According to the Irish Heart Foundation’s submission to the Climate Change Action Plan, “air pollution has overtaken tobacco as the number one killer in Europe, although not in Ireland, with some 800,000 premature deaths now attributable to poor air quality. Of these deaths between 40-80 per cent were due to cardiovascular diseases, mainly heart attacks and strokes. In fact, there are twice as many cardiovascular fatalities arising from air pollution as deaths from respiratory diseases due to airborne pollution. “

“The most recent statistics show that 1,150 premature deaths in Ireland were attributable to air pollution in 2015. Cardiovascular disease is the most common cause of death in this group, “the submission added.

" Without decisive adaptation action, climate change will have profound impacts on the health and well-being of our people, on the smooth delivery of our health and social care services, and on our critical infrastructure.”

Minister Simon Harris TD, Minister for Health

Following the publication of the Climate Change Adaption Plan for the Health Sector, Minister Harris said; “Without decisive adaptation action, climate change will have profound impacts on the health and well-being of our people, on the smooth delivery of our health and social care services, and on our critical infrastructure.”

A special symposium is taking place this week at the RCPI focusing on the the challenges posed to health in Ireland due to climate change and environmental pressures.

The Green Health Symposium will take place on Wednesday, 06 November at the RCPI and is presented in conjunction with APC Microbiome; a world leading Science Foundation Ireland research centre in gastrointestinal health, and the Irish Heart Foundation.

This one-day event focuses on the challenges and opportunities for health in Ireland in light of both climate change and increasing environmental pressures.

Delivered by leading experts, this symposium is designed to inform doctors, allied healthcare professionals and policy makers about the challenges for health posed by climate change and to empower them to advocate for behaviour and policy changes to improve the health of both the nation and the planet.

For more information on the Green Health Symposium please see here:

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