Long-term exposure to particulate air pollution can increase the risk of heart attacks, a new study finds

Air pollution has raised serious concerns across the globe and environmentalists are doing everything in their stride to build awareness about the subject. Recently, European countries have voted in favor of tougher clean-air targets in order to tackle this growing problem.

A new study found that long term exposure to air pollution can increase the risk of heart attacks, even at levels below current European limits, according to a press release.

The study looked into the health data of 100,000 people and followed it up for 12 years. They found that people exposed to particulate matter in the air had a higher chance of heart attacks and cases of unstable angina.

The current yearly limit for particulate matter (PM2.5) set by the European Union is 25 microgram/m3. Researchers noted that even a 5 microgram/m3 rise in PM2.5 yearly can increase the risk of heart attacks by 13 percent.

"Our results show that exposure to particulate matter poses a significant health risk - and an even greater risk than previously thought," said Professor Peters, lead author of the study. "The adverse health effects that occurred at exposure levels below the current specified limits are particularly alarming. The study therefore supports the demands to lower these limits."

Defra recently published a report stating there's no "safe" limit for air pollution and that man-made air pollutants can cut the life expectancy of people in the U.K. by approximately eight months.

"This study adds to the evidence that particulate air pollution is a cause of heart disease, but it does not establish that there are important health risks from levels of exposure below current exposure limits," Prof David Coggon, from the Department of Occupational and Environmental Medicine at the University of Southampton said, according to BBC News. "This is because the differences in risk that were observed may have been a long-term effect of exposures in the past when levels of pollution were higher."

Air pollution is not just a problem in European countries. The United States also faces the brunt of this pollution and according to a recent study, Asian air pollution has a lot to do with this problem.

Researchers from MIT's Laboratory for Aviation and the Environment revealed in an August 2013 study that a staggering 200,000 early deaths each year in the U.S. were a direct consequence of air pollution.

"In the past five to 10 years, the evidence linking air-pollution exposure to risk of early death has really solidified and gained scientific and political traction," said Steven Barrett, an assistant professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT. "There's a realization that air pollution is a major problem in any city, and there's a desire to do something about it."

Findings of the current study were published in the British Medical Journal.