Scientists warn soil pollution could cause heart disease

By Oluwafunke Ishola 

Pesticides and heavy metals in soil may have harmful effects on the cardiovascular system, says a study published in Cardiovascular Research, a journal of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC).

The findings authored by Prof. Thomas Münzel of the University Medical Centre Mainz, Germany, was posted on the ESC website on Friday.

Münzel said that pollution of air, water and soil was responsible for at least nine million deaths annually. 

According to him, more than 60 per cent of pollution-related diseases and death are due to cardiovascular diseases such as chronic ischemic heart disease, heart attack, stroke and heart rhythm disorders (arrhythmias). 

“Soil contamination is a less visible danger to human health than dirty air, but evidence is mounting that pollutants in soil may damage cardiovascular health through a number of mechanisms including inflammation and disrupting the body’s natural clock.” 

“Contaminated soil may lead to cardiovascular disease by increasing oxidative stress in the blood vessels (with more “bad” free radicals and fewer “good” antioxidants), by causing inflammation, and by disturbing the body clock (circadian rhythm).”he said.

He noted that soil pollutants included heavy metals, pesticides and plastics, adding that dirty soil might enter the body by inhaling desert dust, fertilizer crystals, or plastic particles. 

Münzel said heavy metals such as cadmium and lead, plastics, and organic toxicants in pesticides could also be consumed orally. 

“Soil pollutants wash into rivers and create dirty water which may be consumed.

“Pesticides have been linked with an elevated risk of cardiovascular disease. 

“While employees in the agricultural and chemical industries face the greatest exposure, the general public may ingest pesticides from contaminated food, soil and water,” he said. 

Cadmium is a heavy metal that occurs naturally in small amounts in air, water, soil and food, and also comes from industrial and agricultural sources. 

Münzel said that food was the main source of cadmium in non-smokers. 

He noted that population studies had shown mixed results on the relationship between cadmium and cardiovascular disease ,citing a Korean study showing that middle aged Koreans with high blood cadmium had elevated risks of stroke and hypertension. 

He added that studies indicated a higher risk of death from cardiovascular diseases, associated with exposure to arsenic, a naturally- occurring metalloid whose levels could increase due to industrial processes and using contaminated water to irrigate crops. 

“Although soil pollution with heavy metals and its association with cardiovascular diseases is especially a problem of low- and middle-income countries since their populations are disproportionately exposed to these environmental pollutants.

“It becomes a problem for any country in the world due to the increasing globalisation of food supply chains and uptake of these heavy metals with fruits, vegetables and meat,” Münzel said.

He said that the potential hazards of contaminated airborne dust were acknowledged, adding that desert dust could travel long distances.

 The professor said that research had shown that particles from soil in China and Mongolia were related to an increased odds of heart attacks in Japan. 

“The number of cardiovascular emergency department visits in Japan was 21 per cent higher on days with heavy exposure to Asian dust,” he said. 

According to him, there are no population studies on the cardiovascular health effects of nano- and microplastics in humans.

He, however, said that research had shown that these particles could reach the bloodstream, making it plausible that they could travel to the organs and cause systemic inflammation and cardiometabolic disease. 

“More studies are needed on the combined effect of multiple soil pollutants on cardiovascular disease since we are rarely exposed to one toxic agent alone. 

“Research is urgently required on how nano and microplastic might initiate and exacerbate cardiovascular disease. 

“Until we know more, it seems sensible to wear a face mask to limit exposure to windblown dust, filter water to remove contaminants and buy food grown in healthy soil,” he said. (NAN)