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Study: Latinos disproportionately affected by workplace pollution

Have you developed a heart ailment or another condition due to pollution at work? If you’re a member of the Latino community, you are not alone in this. A study in the Journal of the American Hearth Association shows that the Latino community are, more than other people, exposed to pollutants at work that cause heart abnormalities.

The researchers considered a number of sources of workplace pollution: car exhaust, burning wood, pesticides and metals including lead, mercury and manganese. Each of those pollutants is known to cause cancer, stroke, heart attacks, heart defects, heart failure, irregular heart rhythms and death.

Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death in the U.S., but for Latinos cancer is the top cause, followed closely by heart disease.

In the past, studies into these types of pollutants focused on exposures based on where people live. Those studies have tended to under-represent Latinos.

This was an unusual study in that it examined the relationship between heart health and Latinos’ exposure to toxins at work. This is because Latinos are heavily represented in industries with high exposure to toxic substances, including:

  • Farm work
  • Auto repair
  • Construction

The researchers surveyed 782 adult Latinos. On average, they were 52.9 years old. About 52% were women. The participants came from a variety of backgrounds: Mexican, Puerto Rican, Dominican, Cuban, Central American and South American. They lived in San Diego, Chicago, the Bronx or Miami.

Each pollutant found to affect the heart over time

The survey found significant changes over time in the hearts of the participants. For example, exposure to wood smoke was associated with a 3.1% decrease in the blood pumped by the left ventricle. A failing left ventricle can allow other heart issues to arise, including the buildup of fluid in the lungs. Fluid in the lungs can cause a crackling sound when the person breathes, and this can result in poor oxygenation.

Exposure to vehicle exhaust decreased the left ventricle’s ability to contract and affected the right ventricle’s systolic function. These effects decreased the heart’s cardiac output. Right-sided ventricular heart failure can cause swelling in the arms and legs, with blood pooling there instead of returning to the lungs for oxygenation.

Pesticide and toxic metal exposure were also found to cause heart problems. These affected the left ventricle’s contraction or increased its muscle mass, which drives up heart disease risk. Larger heart muscles require more energy, and increased heart muscle size can actually shrink the chambers of the heart.

The study also found that, when people were exposed to these toxins for years, they tended to exhibit atypical heart structure and function. The average time worked was 18 years with these exposures.

“Health care professionals should routinely ask patients about exposure to pollutants at work to guide prevention, diagnosis and treatment of early stages of heart disease,” said one cardiologist involved in the study.

If you have developed work-related heart problems, ask for help

You may be able to get coverage for your work-related heart problems through workers’ compensation. Toxic exposures and the illnesses they cause are generally covered by workers’ comp. If you need help with an application or have been denied workers’ comp coverage, discuss your situation with an experienced attorney.