Scientists from the unit of environmental epidemiology at the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany found that those people who are regularly exposed to fumes from heavy traffic were more likely to get the hardening of the arteries that boosts heart attack risk. The exposure is not limited just to freeways but to the busy city streets as well.

The researchers established that the arteries and the damage that occurred in people who lived close to heavy traffic areas were the same, if not worse, than in people who were exposed to secondhand smoke.

Damage to the blood vessels occurred because of high levels of particulate pollutants in vehicle exhaust fumes but also from the constant noise of heavy traffic that could lead to high blood pressure.

The scientist used so-called electron-beam automated tomography to measure the degree of vessel calcification in the people who were exposed to heavy amounts of fumes. The amount of calcification related directly to the distance of living quarters from heavy traffic. The close they lived to the polluted areas, the higher the calcification was. These study participants will be followed in the years to come to check whether the traffic-related damage to the blood vessels worsens and whether it is associated with a higher incidence of heart attack and other cardiovascular problems.

Scientists believe that there will be a need for the community actions in the long run. For the time being, the only protective action may be watching for obesity and hypertension, well- known cardiac risk factors.