Radioactivity in air pollution linked with cardiovascular harms

October 12, 2022 – Radioactivity in fine particulate air pollution (PM2.5) may be harming people’s cardiovascular health, according to a new study.

Researchers found an association between particle radioactivity in air pollution and an increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease, from myocardial infarction or stroke, and from all nonaccidental causes. The study looked at mortality data in Massachusetts from 2001–2015 as well as radioactive particle concentrations in the air by zip code and month, which enabled the scientists to estimate individuals’ exposure to radioactive particles during their last year of life.

In an October 7 article in Medscape, study co-author Petros Koutrakis, professor of environmental sciences at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, noted that the toxicity of fine particulate matter in the air increased with higher levels of radioactive particles. “We cannot say that it is only radioactivity which makes fine particulate matter in air pollution toxic, but our study suggests that a large part of the harm to human health caused by this fine particulate matter may be brought about by radioactivity,” he said.

The authors speculated that radioactivity attached to PM2.5 particles can penetrate deep into people’s lungs, enter the circulation, and lead to systemic inflammation and oxidative stress. Radon, a radioactive gas, is present both in outside air and inside buildings, Koutrakis noted. He said it would be important to try to prevent radon from entering buildings, particularly in the homes of patients with cardiovascular or respiratory disease. As for outdoor air, reducing fine particulate air pollution could also help reduce radioactivity from entering people’s bodies, he said.

Lead author of the study was postdoctoral research fellow Shuxin Dong. Other Harvard Chan School co-authors included Longxiang Li, Brent Coull, Joel Schwartz, Anna Kosheleva, and Antonella Zanobetti.

Read the Medscape article: Air Pollution Cardiovascular Risks Linked to Radioactivity

Read a Newsweek article: How Air Pollution Raises Risk of Heart Attacks and Strokes