$14.5M Louisville study hopes to plant trees, reduce heart disea - WDRB 41 Louisville News

$14.5M Louisville study hopes to plant trees, reduce heart disease

Posted: Updated: Nov 05, 2017 11:25 AM

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Planting trees for a healthier heart. Leaders from around the world have their eyes on Louisville for a new study, known as the Green Heart Project. 

Louisville's poor air quality is invisible to the human eye, receiving a D or an F over the last several years by the American Lung Association. However, the  
the consequences are glaring.

"Of the people who are exposed to air pollution, 80 percent of those deaths are due to heart attacks. So, whenever air pollution levels go up in a city, within six hours or 12 hours, you'll see an increase in cardiac deaths," says Dr. Aruni Bhatnagar, Professor of Medicine at University of Louisville. 

Dr. Bhatnagar is also known as the father of environmental cardiology because he has made this his life's work. "My research, I would say for the last 15 years, has been to study the effect of air pollution or heart disease," Dr. Bhatnagar said.

He's teaming up with several institutions, including The Nature Conservancy and the Institute for Healthy Air Water and Soil to look at how the environment shapes your health.

"Coronary artery disease and cardiovascular illness is the number one killer globally of people. We're vastly running out of effective treatments and therapies," says Chris Chandler, Director of Urban Conservation for the Kentucky Chapter of The Nature Conservancy.

The Green Heart Project is a study that looks at how thousands of trees could be a new solution to an old problem. The plan is to plant around 8,000 large trees next fall to block pollution.

Chandler said that Emerald ash borer are rapidly killing all ash trees in Louisville, making this initiative that more pressing.

Wyandotte Park is one of hundreds of spots around the city where trees will be planted. They'll also be planted on commercial and residential properties, churches and along right of ways.

Leaders will track and compare the community's health over a five year period.

"We've looked around a lot. Nobody in the world has done a project like this," Chandler said.

The study will also look at other data like the placement and type of tree. 

The results wouldn't be known for quite a few years. However, it's a strong start to bringing new science into the community's own backyard.

"There's a thousand other cities that are the same size of Louisville globally that are all thinking about their urban tree canopies and providing healthy environments and so Louisville has an opportunity to lead in this global new research.

The project is expected to cost $14.5 million. The Nature Conservancy is funding $8.4 million of that money. That includes greening, clinical research, community engagement and air monitoring for five years.

The National Institute of Health, a tax payer funded federal organization, is also funding clinical research.

Chandler said tax payer dollars won't be used to fund tree planting.

U of L is expected to make a federal funding announcement on Thursday, November 9.

Copyright 2017. WDRB News. All rights reserved.

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