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Just 5 high air pollution days can raise stroke risks

Long-term exposure to air pollution has increasingly been linked to strokes, which affect almost 800,000 Americans each year.

Now, a meta-analysis of 110 studies involving more than 18 million cases of stroke shows short-term exposures pose heightened risks, too.

The paper appears in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

Five days: That’s all it takes for high levels of some air pollutants to raise the risk of stroke, whether it’s a 5% uptick from high ozone levels or a more than 26% surge for high concentrations of carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide (NO2).

Stroke risk from sulfur dioxide, another byproduct of fossil fuel burning, fell in the middle (15%), but the pungent gas raised the likelihood of death from stroke 60%.

Higher concentrations of NO2 correlated with a 33% increase in death risk.

High levels of particulates like PM10s and PM2.5s raised the risk of stroke around 15% and increased stroke mortality risk 2% and 9%, respectively.

PM numbers refer to particle sizes, measured in microns, or millionths of a meter.

Examples of PM2.5s or smaller include specks from car exhaust, power plant and industrial emissions, and forest and grass fires. PM10s comprise grains of dust from roads and construction sites.

According to the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, Phoenix had no five-day spans related to PM10s and PM2.5s over the past year.

The city did see five five-day periods of high ozone, however: two last summer and three this summer.

Nicholas Gerbis joined KJZZ’s Arizona Science Desk in 2016. A longtime science, health and technology journalist and editor, his extensive background in related nonprofit and science communications inform his reporting on Earth and space sciences, neuroscience and behavioral health, and bioscience/biotechnology.Apart from travel and three years in Delaware spent earning his master’s degree in physical geography (climatology), Gerbis has spent most of his life in Arizona. He also holds a master’s degree in journalism and mass communication from Arizona State University’s Cronkite School and a bachelor’s degree in geography (climatology/meteorology), also from ASU.Gerbis briefly “retired in reverse” and moved from Arizona to Wisconsin, where he taught science history and science-fiction film courses at University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. He is glad to be back in the Valley and enjoys contributing to KJZZ’s Untold Arizona series.During the COVID-19 pandemic, Gerbis focused almost solely on coronavirus-related stories and analysis. In addition to reporting on the course of the disease and related research, he delved into deeper questions, such as the impact of shutdowns on science and medicine, the roots of vaccine reluctance and the policies that exacerbated the virus’s impact, particularly on vulnerable populations.