Pollution’s Rhythm

In the chambers of our heart
there lies a steady surge,
a metronome of life
to keep the beat.
On stifled skies
and hazy winds
they come,
ashen hymns
of malcontent
that spoil
and clash
and jar.

The beat breaks.

And notes
in                         wild
unbridled                      song –

symptoms of an air
that suffocates
with every
burning breath.
A frantic hand
picks up the pace,
setting tone
and speed
for the discord
of this broken

Beijing smog as seen from the China World Hotel, March 2003 (Image Credit: Kevin Dooley via Flickr).

This poem is inspired by recent research, which has found that air pollution exposure is associated with an increased risk of irregular heartbeat.

Arrhythmia is a condition where the heart’s electrical activity is disturbed. The common arrhythmia conditions atrial fibrillation and atrial flutter, affect an estimated 60 million people globally, and in some cases can lead to serious cardiovascular diseases such as heart failure, stroke, and even death. Air pollution, which is a complex mixture of particulates and gases (such as nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide, and ozone), has been identified as a modifiable risk factor for cardiovascular diseases, and has also been linked to the onset of arrhythmia.

In this new study, researchers evaluated hourly exposure to air pollution and the sudden onset of symptoms of arrythmia using data from 2025 hospitals in 322 Chinese cities. In total they analysed data from over 190,000 patients, and found that the risk of arrhythmia was higher within the first few hours of exposure to air pollution, especially for atrial fibrillation (rapid, irregular atrial contractions), atrial flutter (rapid, regular atrial contractions), and supraventricular tachycardia (rapid heart rate). Given that air pollution in China is extremely high, this research further highlights the need to reduce pollution levels and take measures to protect those who are more susceptible to the harmful effects of air pollutants.


3 thoughts on “Pollution’s Rhythm”

  1. Hi Sam – I like “ashen hymns of malcontent” because air pollution only occurs because we all sing, to a greater or lesser extent from the same hymn sheet, set by the polluters. And suffer the consequences.
    You use the musical metaphor for arrhythmia to good effect. Nice one!


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