Traffic jams kill, heart doctors warn
Yes, being stuck in a traffic jam daily can kill you, according to health experts.
“Traffic is really bad for our health,” Dr. Anthony Leachon, a cardiologist at Manila Doctors Hospital and president of the Philippine College of Physicians Foundation, told the Inquirer on Sunday.
With the worsening air quality in Metro Manila, commuters who get stuck on the road for hours and endure long lines to catch a ride in public transportation are exposed to various kinds of pollutants. The exposure makes them highly vulnerable to developing respiratory disease and cardiovascular illnesses, Leachon said.
Last week, Transportation Secretary Joseph Abaya apologized for saying that Metro Manila’s deteriorating traffic condition “is not fatal.” In a statement on Thursday, Abaya admitted that his remark came across as “reckless and insensitive.”
While the transportation chief has offered his apology to the hundreds of thousands of commuters who were offended by his remarks, medical experts still offered their two cents’ worth on the matter, explaining how traffic jams can be detrimental to one’s health.
According to Leachon, air pollution, a major problem in urban centers, causes lung diseases such as bronchitis and exacerbates bronchial asthma and recurrent respiratory tract infections and allergies.
Air pollution also contributes to cardiovascular diseases and deaths, he said, citing a 2010 report of the American Heart Association that short-term exposure to air pollution increases the risk of heart attacks, strokes, irregular heart beats or cardiac arrhythmia in predisposed individuals.
These vulnerable individuals include the elderly and those with preexisting medical conditions, such as diabetes, chronic obstructive heart disease and hypertension, he said.
Leachon also cited a study by researchers at the Institute of Epidemiology of Helmholtz Center in Munich, Germany, showing that heavy traffic, regardless of the mode of transportation, tripled one’s risk of heart attack within an hour due to pollution from car fumes.
The researchers interviewed 1,454 people who survived heart attacks in a previous study and found that many of them had been stuck in traffic in the hour before their heart attack.
The study also suggested that stress brought about by heavy road gridlock could be a contributing factor.
“Thus, traffic woes are fatal. And the government should embark on a major strategic plan in the next six years or longer to alleviate this stressful malady afflicting daily commuters and the whole nation as well,” Leachon said.
Metro Manila’s air quality worsened in terms of total suspended particulates from 106 µg/Ncm (micrograms per normal cubic meter) from July to December 2014 to 130 µg/Ncm from January to April this year, according to latest data from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
Both figures are beyond the maximum safe level of 90 µg/Ncm.
Particulate matter of 10 microns in diameter (PM10) in Metro Manila’s air also jumped from 52 µg/Ncm from July to December 2014 to 62 µg/Ncm during the first four months of the year, two points higher than the standard PM10.
Eighty-five percent of the capital’s total air emissions come from vehicles, records showed.
In a statement, Dr. Leo Olarte, chair of the environmental group Coalition of Clean Air Advocates of the Philippines (CCAAP), said traffic jams in the capital worsened all the deadly effects of unabated motor vehicle emissions on the health and lives of daily commuters.
“If you’re a patient with cardiovascular ailments, the intensive particulate matter or soot exposure that you can be subjected to when caught in monstrous traffic jams for several hours can possibly trigger life-threatening episodes of heart attack, stroke and even sudden death right there and then, even when you’re inside your air-conditioned cars,” Olarte said.
He blamed corruption in emission testing for vehicles for the unchecked air pollution. In June, the CCAAP led the filing of graft complaints against officials of the Land Transportation Office (LTO), an agency under the Department of Transportation and Communications.
“We are continuously appealing to [Abaya] to act decisively on this crucial public health concern … by ordering LTO chief Alfonso Tan to do his job and to put an immediate stop to the nonappearance or no-show motor vehicle emission scam under his nose,” Olarte said.–With a report from Jaymee T. Gamil