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Elizabeth Cooney is a health reporter for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.
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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Air pollution raises women's heart disease risk, says study

Stricter control of air pollution is needed to reduce the risk of heart disease in women, two Harvard researchers write in an editorial to be published in tomorrow’s New England Journal of Medicine.

Their comments accompany a study in the journal that shows long-term exposure to the fine particles in air pollution are more harmful to older women than previously known, raising their risk of heart disease and death.

Researchers from the University of Washington reviewed medical records from more than 65,000 postmenopausal women with no previous history of heart disease who participated in a long-running, federally funded study called the Women’s Health Initiative.

Other studies have shown a connection between fine particles in air pollution and death. But the pairing of the detailed medical records with data from air monitors in the 36 US cities where the women lived, revealed that women who breathed in more fine particles over a period averaging six years increased their chances of having heart attacks, strokes, blocked arteries and other illnesses. And the risk depended on the level of fine-particulate pollution in the area of the city where they lived.

"The findings of the WHI study strongly support the recommendations for tighter standards for long-term fine particulate air pollution," said Douglas W. Dockery of the Harvard School of Public Health and Peter H. Stone of Brighams and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, writing in the editorial.

They noted that the US Environmental Protection Agency had recently lowered the standard for exposure to fine particles in the air over a 24-hour period but had declined to reduce the standard for longer-term exposure. Dockery and Stone called on the EPA to adopt a tighter standard, which has also been recommended by the agency's science advisers.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 05:45 PM
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