Particle Pollution and Heart Disease

PM stands for particulate matter (also called particle pollution).

PM10 is inhalable particles with diameters that are generally 10 micrometers and smaller; PM2.5 are fine inhalable particles with diameters that are generally 2.5 micrometers and smaller. The average human hair is about 70 micrometers in diameter, making it 30 times larger than the largest fine particle.

Particle pollution—also called particulate matter (PM)—is made up of particles (tiny pieces) of solids or liquids in the air.1 Research shows that short- and long-term exposure to particulate pollution are both linked to an increased risk of heart attacks and other forms of heart disease.2

About Particle Pollution

Some particles, such as dust, dirt, soot, or smoke, are large or dark enough to be seen with the naked eye. Others are so small that you cannot see them in the air.1 These small particles are called PM2.5 and are 2.5 micrometers and smaller in diameter. The average human hair is about 70 micrometers in diameter, or 30 times larger than the largest small particle.3 Some common sources of PM2.5 are tobacco smoke, automobile or diesel exhaust, and wood smoke.

Particle pollution can affect anyone, but it bothers some people more than others.1 Small particles are the biggest problem, because they are the most likely to cause health problems. Their small size allows them to be inhaled deeply into the lungs. Once small particles are in the lungs, they can affect the heart and blood vessels.4 That’s why breathing in particle pollution can cause serious problems, such as a heart attack for someone with heart disease.1

Join the Conversation!

The Million Hearts® Climate Change & Cardiovascular Disease Collaborative (CCC), in partnership with the HHS Office on Climate Change and Health Equity, the CDC National Center for Environmental Health, and the Environmental Protection Agency, is a national forum for health care organizations to deepen their knowledge about the cardiovascular health threats that climate change (e.g., extreme heat, extreme temperatures) and air pollution (e.g., particulate matter) present, offer evidence-based interventions to address those threats (especially for high-risk populations), and provide opportunities to test and refine relevant solutions and tools.

Tools and Resources

For Clinicians

For Public Health

For Individuals

  • AirNow: Air Quality Index Basics
    The Air Quality Index (AQI) predicts when air pollution in your area is likely to reach levels that could be harmful. You can use the AQI to help you avoid particle pollution. Local TV stations, radio programs, websites, and newspapers also report the AQI. You can also download an AQI app to your phone. Try checking it out when you plan your daily activities.
  • Air Cleaners and Air Filters in the Home
    This EPA site provides information on sources of PM in the indoor environment and steps you can take to reduce your exposures including the use of air cleaners and air filters.
  • Steps You Can Take to Reduce Health Effects from Air Pollution
    This EPA site provides information on steps you can take to reduce your exposure to high levels of air pollution.
  • PSA: Be Smart, Protect Your Heart from Air Pollution
    This video from the EPA provides information on how to use the Air Quality Index to reduce your exposure to air pollution.
  • Protect Yourself from Wildfire Smoke
    This site from CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health provides information on what to do before, during, and after wildfires to protect yourself from smoke and ash. Wildfire smoke can make anyone sick, but some people, like those with heart disease, are especially at risk.
  • Wildfire Guide Factsheets
    These fact sheets provide information about the impacts of wildfire smoke and steps to reduce your exposures are helpful information.
  • Wildfire Smoke and Indoor Air Quality
    This EPA site provides helpful information to reduce your exposure to wildfire smoke inside your home.
  • Using Air Now During Wildfires
    This document provides guidance on using key parts of the AirNow website: the Fire and Smoke Map, the Dial, and the Interactive Map.
  • BurnWise
    BurnWise is a partnership program between EPA, state agencies, manufacturers, and consumers that teaches the importance of burning the right wood, the right way, in the right appliance.

Key Publications