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Black Carbon Ups Risk of Cardiovascular Diseases in Women, Study

First Posted: Aug 26, 2014 10:15 AM EDT
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Researchers have found that black carbon, one of the major climate pollutants, ups the risk of cardiovascular disease among women.

Black carbon is found worldwide and is often produced from biomass burning, cooking with solid fuels and diesel exhausts. Since black carbon is the leading cause of respiratory illness and premature mortality, researchers at the McGill University investigated the effects of black carbon pollutant on the health of women cooking with traditional wood stoves.

Highlighting the detrimental effects of black carbon, the researchers claim that this pollutant elevates the risk of cardiovascular disease in women. They based their finding on the daily exposure to various types of air pollutants, including black carbon, in 280 women residing in China's rural Yunnan province.

The team basically focused on the health consequences of these air pollutants that are emitted from sources common in developing countries.

"China's unprecedented economic growth is fuelling massive increases in industrial and motor vehicle pollution, and 700 million Chinese homes still cook with wood and coal fuels. The Chinese government is setting new targets to improve its air quality. We wanted to identify the pollution sources that most impact human health to help inform these pollution control efforts." said study lead McGill Professor Jill Baumgartner.

In this study, the researchers outfitted women with wearable air samplers that accumulated fine particulate matter. They then analyzed the air samples for various pollutants including black carbon. They also measured the participants' blood pressure, intake of salt, physical activity and body mass index.

The researchers noticed that black carbon pollutants had greatly impacted the women's blood pressure levels that directly affected the risk of cardiovascular disease - the effect was two times more than that of the particulate matter that is often measured in health studies. Although black carbon from wood burning is considered crucial for climate warming, the new study shows that it's a key pollutant for health.

Women residing closer to highways and are exposed to both wood smoke and traffic emission, have a three-fold increased blood pressure levels when compared to women living away from highways. 

Adds Baumgartner, "We found that black carbon from wood smoke negatively affects cardiovascular health, and that the health effects off wood smoke are exacerbated by co-exposure to motor vehicle emissions. Policies that decrease combustion pollution by replacing inefficient wood stoves and reducing traffic pollution will likely benefit both climate and public health".

The finding was documented in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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