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Living near high-traffic roads can cause a hardening of the arteries that leads to heart disease and strokes at twice the rate of those who live farther away.
A study conducted by researchers from USC and UC Berkeley, along with colleagues in Spain and Switzerland, and published this week in the journal PloS ONE is linking automobile and truck exhaust to the progression of atherosclerosis — the thickening of artery walls — in humans.
Researchers used ultrasound to measure the carotid artery wall thickness of 1,483 people who lived within 100 meters Los Angeles freeways. Taking measurements every six months for three years, they correlated their findings with levels of outdoor particulates — the toxic dust that spews from tailpipes — at the residents’ homes.
Findings indicate that artery wall thickness in study participants accelerated annually by 5.5 micrometers — one-twentieth the thickness of a human hair — more than twice the average progression.
The findings show that environmental factors may play a larger role in the risk for cardiovascular disease than previously suspected. Air pollution contributes to the early formation of heart disease, known as atherosclerosis, which is connected to nearly half the deaths in Western societies. By controlling air pollution from traffic, we may see much larger benefits to public health than we previously thought.