Effects on cardiovascular and respiratory systems of short-term exposures to ultrafine particles in air, near an airport, in healthy subjects

There is a growing body of research into the negative health impacts of very tiny particulate air pollution. The nanoparticles of ≤20 nm are produced by vehicle engines, but seem to be produced in considerable amounts by jet engine. A new study in the Netherlands looked at impacts on the respiratory and cardiovascular systems of 21 healthy young (18 – 35), non-smoking volunteers. They were exposed between 2 and 5 times to 5 hour periods of the ambient air near Schiphol airport, while doing intermittent moderate exercise like cycling. Various aspects of their circulation and respiration were measured. The study found the exposures  were associated with decreased FVC (forced vital capacity – a measure of lung function) and prolonged QTc intervals (the time it takes the heart to re-polarise for the next beat).The effects were relatively small, but they appeared after single exposures of 5 h in young healthy adults. “As this study cannot make any inferences about long-term health impacts, appropriate studies investigating potential health effects of long-term exposure to airport-related UFP, are urgently needed.”



Effects of short-term exposures to ultrafine particles near an airport in healthy subjects


• 21 volunteers were exposed for 5 h to ultrafine particles (UFP) next to an airport.
• Exposures were associated with decreased FVC and prolonged QTc intervals.
• These effects were associated with particles ≤20 nm (mainly UFP from aviation).
• UFP >50 nm (mainly from road traffic) were associated with increased blood pressure.
• Investigation of the impact of long-term exposure to airport-related UFP is needed.


[FVC is  “forced vital capacity” which is a measure of lung function.

QTc means the time it takes heart cells to repolarise – so a measure of the time between heart beats].


Recent studies reported elevated concentrations of ultrafine particles (UFP) near airports. Little is known about the health effects of UFP from aviation. Since UFP can deposit deep into the lungs and other organs, they may cause significant adverse health effects.


We investigated health effects of controlled short-term human exposure to UFP near a major airport.


In this study, 21 healthy non-smoking volunteers (age range: 18–35 years) were repeatedly (2–5 visits) exposed for 5 h to ambient air near Schiphol Airport, while performing intermittent moderate exercise (i.e. cycling). Pre- to post-exposure changes in cardiopulmonary outcomes (spirometry, forced exhaled nitric oxide, electrocardiography and blood pressure) were assessed and related to total- and size-specific particle number concentrations (PNC), using linear mixed effect models.


The PNC [particle number concentration] was on average 53,500 particles/cm3 (range 10,500–173,200). A 5–95th percentile increase in exposure to UFP (i.e. 125,400 particles/cm3) was associated with a decrease in FVC of −73.8 mL (95% CI −138.8 – −0.4) and a prolongation of the corrected QT (QTc) interval by 9.9 ms (95% CI 2.0 – 19.1). These effects were associated with particles < 20 nm (mainly UFP from aviation), but not with particles > 50 nm (mainly UFP from road traffic).


Short-term exposures to aviation-related UFP near a major airport, was associated with decreased lung function (mainly FVC) and a prolonged QTc interval in healthy volunteers. The effects were relatively small, however, they appeared after single exposures of 5 h in young healthy adults. As this study cannot make any inferences about long-term health impacts, appropriate studies investigating potential health effects of long-term exposure to airport-related UFP, are urgently needed.

… and there is a lot more detail …..

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Pollutionwatch: fine particles affect lungs of those near airports

Trial finds reduced lung function and heart changes in young people who exercised near Schiphol

By Gary Fuller @drgaryfuller (The Guardian)

Fri 1 January 2021

For seven months in 2018, a lorry trailer was parked near a runway at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport. It housed exercise bikes and air pollution measurement equipment. Twenty-one healthy young people took turns to visit the trailer for pedalling sessions. Air was funnelled from the outside as the young people exercised, and researchers monitored their heart and lung functions.

Sometimes the wind blew from the runways and sometimes the air came from nearby roads, the countryside or city. The experiment was designed to see if there were any health impacts from breathing the tiny particles, less than 20 millionths of a millimetre across, that are produced in huge numbers from aircraft engines.

These are missed by conventional measurements of air pollution, but there is increasing evidence that they can spread tens of kilometres downwind from an airport. For instance, aviation particles were recently found in the centres of Barcelona, Helsinki, London and Zurich, when the wind blew from each city’s airport, potentially affecting millions of people.

At Schiphol, the young people had reduced lung function and changes to heart rhythms after breathing ultrafine particles from the aircraft engines. More studies are urgently needed to determine the long-term health impacts for people living close to airports.



See earlier:


New King’s College study on Heathrow ultrafine particle air pollution shows it spreads far into London

In a new study, researchers from King’s College London have measured ultrafine particles (UFP) in European cities and detected emissions from airports. Many studies have examined and quantified the levels of larger particles (e.g.PM2.5 – <2.5μm or PM10 – <10μm), but very few have studied UFP (< 0.1 μm).  The researchers identified, characterised and quantified the sources UFPs in Barcelona, Helsinki, London, and Zurich between 2007 and 2017. They measured particle and gaseous pollutants at different sites and used a statistical model to identify and quantify the contribution of the different sources of ultrafine particles.  They found that London had the highest concentration of UFP compared to other cities. The greatest concentrations of the smallest particles (called nucleation particles) when the wind was blowing from the airport in all cities. This indicates that airports are a major UFP source and that these small particles can travel many kilometres. Traffic emissions contributed the most.  So it is confirmed that Heathrow pollution – with very negative health impacts – spreads far into London, many miles away.

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New research shows no safe limit for PM2.5 which would hugely increase with expansion of airports, like Stansted

New research published in the British Medical Journal on 30 November has shown that airborne emissions of fine carbon particles – known as PM2.5 – can have serious health impacts even when the level of concentration is below the World Health Organisation’s guideline limits for air pollution. PM2.5 emanates especially from fuel combustion and transport sources and is one of the major issues associated with airport expansion, not only because of the additional air pollution caused by the increased number of flights but also from the additional road traffic generated by the increase in passenger numbers travelling to and from the airport.  There are links between PM2.5 and respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, as well as Parkinson’s and diabetes, and there are now others. The expansion of Stansted Airport is expected to hugely increase air pollution. Its own figures indicate the expansion to 43 mppa would lead to perhaps an extra 25% – 13.6 tonnes – of PM2.5 into the air that local residents, have to breathe.  That is wholly unacceptable, knowing the severe health impacts upon the local population.

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Communities around Sea-Tac Airport exposed to a unique mix of air pollution associated with aircraft

Seattle-Tacoma Airport, USA had about 438,000 flights in 2018.  Communities under flight paths and downwind of the airport are exposed to air pollution from the aircraft. Now research from the University of Washington shows that this includes a type of ultra-fine particle pollution, less than 0.1 micron in diameter, distinctly associated with aircraft.  A 2-year study  “MOV-UP”) looked at air pollution within 10 miles of the airport, and collected air samples at numerous locations between 2018 and 2019. The researchers developed a new method to distinguish between ultra-fine particle pollution from jet traffic and pollution from other sources such as road vehicles, in the particle size and mixture of particles emitted. They found that communities under the flight paths near the airport are exposed to higher proportions of smaller-sized, ‘ultra-ultrafine’ pollution particles, between 0.01 to 0.02 microns in diameter,  and over a larger area compared to pollution particles associated with roads. The tiny particles get deep into the lungs, and can penetrate tissues around the body, potentially causing illness, including cancers. Knowing the different signature of ultra-fine particles from aviation will enable local authorities to detect the pollution from aircraft themselves.

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