Dirty Hearts

In hazy vapours
lurk cloistered harms,
toxic fumes
that choke the skies
with veiled,
unscented threats
of death.
Thieves in the mist
stealing each heart’s beat
with poisons masked and slow –
a silent sentence
in every breathe we take.
Defences creak and sigh
with impotence,
flak jackets made from paper
against a biased,
unrelenting foe.

PM2.5 particles can be breathed in by humans and travel through the respiratory tract into the lungs and from there, they can travel to different organs throughout the body, including the heart. (Image Credit: Pxhere).

This poem is inspired by recent research, which has found that long-term exposure to air pollution is tied to an increased risk of having a heart attack or dying from heart disease.

Fine particulate air pollution, also known as PM2.5, is a type of air pollution that can harm your heart and increase the risk of health problems. Studies have shown that long-term exposure to PM2.5 for a year or more can lead to heart problems, including heart disease and even death. However, there are still many things we don’t know about PM2.5 pollution. This is because it can be difficult to study heart attacks because medical records are needed to confirm them, and not many studies have been done over long time periods. In the United States there is also still debate about whether the current US National Ambient Air Quality Standard, which allows up to 12 micro grams of PM2.5 pollution per metre cubed of air per year, is enough to protect public health.

In this new study, researchers looked at data from 3.7 million adults living in California to investigate how PM2.5, is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular events, such as heart attacks and cardiovascular disease mortality. The participants had no prior history of stroke or acute myocardial infarction (AMI) and were followed for up to 10 years. The results of this study showed that an increase of 10 micro grams per metre cubed of PM2.5 over just one year was associated with a 12% increased risk of incident AMI, a 21% increased risk of deaths caused by a reduced blood supply to the heart muscle due to a blockage or narrowing of the coronary arteries, and an 8% increased risk of death brought about by cardiovascular disease. The greatest harms were also found to be impacting under-resourced communities. The study’s findings conclude that the current regulatory standard for PM2.5 may not be sufficiently protective to protect people from the health damage that such pollutants can cause.

4 thoughts on “Dirty Hearts”

  1. Thanks for your writing. Now that I have read the “about” section again, I realize that much of what I’ve written below is going to be boring old-hat stuff to you, or maybe you’ll disagree because you’ve done a lot more research and thinking about this topic than I have, but I plan to learn more. So, some initial thoughts. In my class called “Science, Rhetoric, and Social Influence” at UCLA, we have a single day on poetry and science, but I wish I could spend half the quarter on that topic. This quarter, students seemed to come to the conclusion that poetry allows the scientists who write it to express themselves in ways they can’t in their in their formal science writing. Reasonable and true. But these (mainly science-oriented) students have a very limited idea of poetry—it’s not formal, it’s more confessional than rational, and it’s almost purely recreational. Some of them conclude that poetry could bring science to a larger or at least different audience than it gets to now, but then they have to contend with the sad fact that few people actually read poetry. (You may have a different view; I hope you are right!) I’m sad that English (and history and philosophy…) departments are closing in some colleges in the USA, but I like to imagine that maybe more people will read poetry when it seems less like schoolwork and more like something they’ve discovered themselves. Anyway, this is a long way to saying “thanks” for these (not just) “sixth form” poems, which show many of the things that poems can do (distillation, combining heart with mind, taking advantage of the complex and multiple meanings of words, highlighting what scientific results mean to real people and animals and plants in the world, pleasing sound, etc). This one (“Dirty Hearts” of 3.3.23) hits close to home (and heart), since I’ve lived in CA most of life. I’ll go look for more of your work on this topic and learn from it. (PS I’ll share my website below, but there are not very recent posts.)


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