Air pollution is causing serious negative health effects and is linked to lung cancer and heart failure, according to two new studies, The Guardian reports. Both studies were published in the Lancet Oncology Journal, and looked at long-term exposure to particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, and other pollutants from air pollution, particularly from car exhaust. And the more pollution, the more disease, the studies found.

The European Study of Cohorts for Air Pollution Effects (ESCAPE) combined data from 17 studies across nine European countries, giving it “greater authority” than any other study on the subject.

ESCAPE found that even low levels of air pollution increase the risk of lung cancer. The increased risk was present even at levels defined as “safe” and “acceptable” by the European Union.

“Air pollution comes from traffic – mostly diesel fumes – household heating and industry. In cities where people live close together, ‘there is no reason to be believe this [risk] is restricted to people of higher or lower socio-economic status,’” Ole Raaschou-Nielsen, lead researcher from the Danish Cancer Society Research Centre, told The Guardian.

The second study, on air pollution and heart failure, found that “short-term exposure to air pollution increases the risk of being admitted to hospital with and dying of heart failure.” The study combined research from 35 studies across 12 countries, including the US.

It compared the presence of carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, particulate matter, and ozone pollution to rates of being hospitalized for heart failure. Heart failure is “a condition in which the heart can’t pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs.” Heart failure does not mean that the heart stops working, but it is a serious condition that requires medical attention.

There are an estimated 20 million cases of heart failure worldwide, with 5 to 6 million of those occurring in the United States and 750,000 in the United Kingdom.

The study found that exposure to air pollution can send a patient with heart failure to the hospital or kill them. “While the role of air pollution is well recognized as a risk factor for heart attacks, it has been less clear whether exposure increases the risk of adverse events in patients with other cardiovascular conditions like heart failure,” lead researcher Nicholas Mills of the University of Edinburgh in Britain said in a statement.

“Since the entire population is exposed to air pollution, even modest reductions in air pollution could have major cardiovascular health benefits and substantial healthcare cost savings,” he added.

Alisha is a writer and researcher for Ring of Fire.

Air Pollution