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Daily Grind More Deadly Than Drugs, Alcohol, Overeating

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The exhaust fumes you inhale while sitting in traffic could give you a heart attack. In fact, because we collectively drive so much, more heart attacks are triggered by auto exhaust than anything else, including physical exertion, alcohol , anger, overeating , sex, and cocaine.

In a meta-study published Feb. 24 in The Lancet, Belgian scientists rounded up data from 36 other studies, and found that air pollution from auto exhaust triggers 7.4 percent of all cases of cardiac arrest.

That beats out physical exertion (which triggers 6.2 percent of heart attacks), drinking alcohol or coffee (5 percent), exposure to air pollution in general (4.8 percent), negative emotions (3.9 percent), anger (3.1 percent), a heavy meal (2.7 percent), positive emotions (a rather surprising 2.4 percent), sex (2.2 percent), and cocaine (less than 1 percent).

That isn't to say that huffing car fumes during the daily grind is more dangerous for any one person than snorting cocaine. Dr. Tim Nawrot of Hasselt University in Diepenbeek, Belgium, who wrote the report, told the press: "Of the triggers for heart attack studied, cocaine is the most likely to trigger an event in an individual, but traffic has the greatest population effect as more people are exposed to the trigger."

It's a shame sitting in traffic is so fun.

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Natalie Wolchover
Natalie Wolchover

Natalie Wolchover was a staff writer for Live Science from 2010 to 2012 and is currently a senior physics writer and editor for Quanta Magazine. She holds a bachelor's degree in physics from Tufts University and has studied physics at the University of California, Berkeley. Along with the staff of Quanta, Wolchover won the 2022 Pulitzer Prize for explanatory writing for her work on the building of the James Webb Space Telescope. Her work has also appeared in the The Best American Science and Nature Writing and The Best Writing on Mathematics, Nature, The New Yorker and Popular Science. She was the 2016 winner of the  Evert Clark/Seth Payne Award, an annual prize for young science journalists, as well as the winner of the 2017 Science Communication Award for the American Institute of Physics.