The high level air pollutants released in Mecca during the holy pilgrimage of Muslims for hajj, where millions of people visit the city on foot as well as in vehicles, lead to an increase in the risk of heart attack in pilgrims, a study reveals.
The Hajj is annual holy pilgrimage in which hundreds of thousands of Muslims converge on the Saudi Arabian city, Mecca.
“Hajj is like nothing else on the planet. You have three to four million people – a whole good-sized city – coming into an already existing city,” said Isobel Simpson University of California, Irvine (UCI).
“The problem is that this intensifies the pollution that already exists,” Simpson added, “There is carbon monoxide that increases the risk of heart failure. There is benzene that causes narcosis and leukaemia.”
The researchers analysed air samples during the 2012 and 2013 Hajj pilgrimages on roadsides near massive, air-conditioned tents and in narrow tunnels that funnel people to the Grand Mosque, the world’s largest, in the heart of Mecca.
The worst spot was inside Al-Masjid Al-Haram tunnel, where pilgrims on foot, hotel workers and security personnel are exposed to fumes from idling vehicles, often for hours. The highest carbon monoxide level, 57,000 parts per billion was recorded in this tunnel during October 2012.
Heart attacks are a major concern linked to such exposure. For instance, the risk of heart failure hospitalization or death rises sharply as the amount of carbon monoxide in the air escalates, the researchers said in a statement. Headaches, dizziness and nausea have also been associated with inhaling carbon monoxide.
“There’s carbon monoxide that increases the risk of heart failure. There’s benzene that causes narcosis and leukemia,” Simpson said. “But the other way to look at it is that people are not just breathing in benzene or CO, they’re breathing in hundreds of components of smog and soot.”
In addition to the high smog-forming measurements, the team in follow-up work found alarming levels of black carbon and fine particulates that sink deep into lungs.
Haider Khwaja of the University at Albany said, “Air pollution is the cause of one in eight deaths and has now become the single biggest environmental health risk globally.” As per the reports of WHO, there were 4.3 million deaths in 2012 due to indoor air pollution and 3.7 million deaths because of outdoor air pollution.
Besides UCI, scientists from King Abdulaziz University in Saudi Arabia, the University of Karachi in Pakistan, the New York State Department of Health and the University at Albany in New York were also involved in the research.
The findings were presented at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco, US. (IANS)