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Tiny particles in diesel fumes are harmful, says study

BHF-funded scientists at the University of Edinburgh have shown that tiny particles in diesel exhaust can increase the chances of a clot forming in blood vessels.

When a clot forms in one of the blood vessels supplying our heart with oxygen, it can cause a heart attack.

The study also showed that the tiny ‘nanoparticles’ in diesel fumes – which are less than a millionth of a metre wide – stopped blood vessels from relaxing and contracting properly, a key part of keeping them free from disease.

The research comes from an ongoing programme at our Centre of Research Excellence at the University of Edinburgh, looking at the effect of air pollution on heart disease. The programme is led by BHF Chair David Newby.

Our Associate Medical Director, Professor Jeremy Pearson, said:

"We've known for a long time that air pollution is a major heart health issue and that’s why we’re funding this team in Edinburgh to continue their vital research.

"Their findings suggest that lives could be saved by cutting these harmful nanoparticles out of exhaust – perhaps by taking them out of the fuel, or making manufacturers add gadgets to their vehicles that can trap particles before they escape. The best approach isn’t clear yet.

"For now our advice remains the same – people with heart disease should avoid spending long periods outside in areas where traffic pollution is likely to be high, such as on or near busy roads."

The research was published in the European Heart Journal.

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