The extraordinary lengths to which the Chinese government went to avoid the embarrassment of hosting the Olympic Games in a smog-choked city offered researchers at the @UofR a rare opportunity to study the effects of air pollution on the day-to-day cardiovascular health of those who live under its pall.
Probably the most amazing part of this story is the fact that China’s efforts to curb pollution actually did work. For weeks prior to the Games, they restricted automobile traffic, closed factories and seeded clouds to produce more rainfall. The results were a significant – albeit temporary – reduction in airborne pollutants. Once the Games were done, however, they relaxed those rules.
This gave researchers the opportunity to measure some of the markers for cardiovascular problems – high blood pressure, heart rates, and blood clotting – before, during and after the moratorium on pollution. The results were unmistakable:
The authors found that the markers used in the study essentially mirrored pollution changes – improving as anti-pollution controls were implemented and rebounding once the air pollution controls were relaxed. For example, two key indicators of blood coagulation – von Willebrand factor and soluble P-selectin concentrations – were reduced by 13 and 34 percent respectively during the games. After the games, these two indicators returned to near pre-Olympic levels. The study also saw similar, but not statistically significant, patterns of change in blood pressure and white blood cell count during the period of pollution controls.
The study goes on to say that the participants in the study were young and healthy, and that the effects of pollution would likely be harsher in more vulnerable demographics.