Particle Pollution and Heart Disease
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
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
- Reducing Healthcare Carbon Emissions: A Primer on Measures and Actions for Healthcare Organizations to Mitigate Climate Change
This primer from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality serves as an action guide to help healthcare organizations reduce their carbon footprint and protect communities from climate threats.
- Particle Pollution and Your Patients’ Health
EPA teamed up with CDC to develop and accredit a course designed for healthcare professionals. The course provides tools to help patients understand how particle pollution affects their health and how to effectively use the EPA Air Quality Index.
- Wildfire Smoke and Your Patients’ Health
This EPA accredited course educates clinicians on the health effects associated with wildfire smoke and actions for patients to take before and during a wildfire to reduce exposure.
- Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Healthy Heart Toolkit
This toolkit from EPA has resources for both clinicians and patients explaining how air pollution can trigger heart attacks and strokes and worsen heart conditions in people with known heart disease.
- The Download Podcast: Particle Pollution and Heart Disease
This podcast highlights air particle pollution as a cardiovascular disease risk factor and how clinicians can work within their network of clinical care teams to mitigate its adverse health effects.
For Public Health
- CDC National Environmental Public Health Tracking Network
The National Environmental Public Health Tracking Network integrates health, exposure, and hazard information and data from a variety of national, state, and city sources. View maps, tables, and charts with data about air pollution and some chronic diseases including heart disease.
- Wildfire Smoke: A Guide for Public Health Officials (Revised 2019) [PDF 1.5 MB]
This guide is intended to provide state, tribal, and local public health officials with information they need to be prepared for smoke events and, when wildfire smoke is present, to communicate health risks and take measures to protect the public.
- American Transportation Research Institute: Compendium of Idling Regulations [PDF – 333 KB]
Idling vehicles affect human health, pollute the air, waste fuel, and cause excess engine wear. Learn about current idling regulations by state.
- EPA Clean Diesel and DERA Funding
New diesel engines are cleaner than ever before, but millions of older, dirtier engines are still in use. Reducing exposure to diesel exhaust from these older engines is important for human health and the environment.
- Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights: Lists & Maps
This site provides a collection of state and local tobacco control laws including 100 percent smoke-free laws and e-cigarette laws.
- Air Quality Flag Program
Organizations participating in the Air Quality Flag Program raise a flag that correspond to EPA’s Air Quality Index (AQI): green, yellow, orange, red, and purple. On unhealthy days, organizations can use this information to adjust physical activities to help reduce exposure to air pollution, while still keeping people active.
- Smoke-Ready Toolbox for Wildfires
Public health officials and others can use the resources in the Smoke-Ready Toolbox to help educate people about the risks of smoke exposure and actions they can take to protect their health.
- Environmental Law Institute: Research Reports on Indoor Sources of Particulate Matter
Learn more about policies and programs to reduce indoor exposure to particulate matter from outdoor sources, cooking, and indoor wood burning.
- Research on Health Effects from Air Pollution
This site provides a broad range of EPA’s research to better understand the health effects of air pollutants, including individuals with heart disease.
- 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 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.
- December 2019 Final Report: Integrated Science Assessment (ISA) For Particulate Matter
EPA’s latest evaluation of the scientific literature on the potential human health and welfare effects associated with ambient exposures to particulate matter.
- Air Quality Awareness Among U.S. Adults with Respiratory and Heart Disease
In this study, existing respiratory disease, but not heart disease, was associated with increased air quality awareness. These findings reveal opportunities to raise awareness about air quality alerts and behavior changes aimed at reducing air pollution exposure during periods of unhealthy air quality.
- Personal-Level Protective Actions Against Particulate Matter Air Pollution Exposure: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association
This scientific statement summarizes the current evidence supporting personal-level strategies to reduce the adverse cardiovascular effects of PM2.5.
- Clean Air Act
The Clean Air Act is the federal law that regulates air emissions from both stationary sources, such as power plants, and mobile sources, such as vehicles. This law authorizes EPA to establish National Ambient Air Quality Standards to protect public health and public welfare and to regulate emissions of hazardous air pollutants.
- “Particulate Matter from Electronic Cigarettes and Conventional Cigarettes: A Systematic Review and Observational Study”
This study reviews the literature on the composition of aerosols from electronic cigarettes and describes the emission of PM2.5 from conventional and e-cigarettes at home in real-use conditions.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Particle Pollution. https://www.cdc.gov/air/particulate_matter.html. Accessed January 18, 2022.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Heart Disease & Stroke. https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/tracking/topics/HeartDisease.htm. Accessed January 18, 2022.
- Environmental Protection Agency. Particulate Matter (PM) Basics. https://www.epa.gov/pm-pollution/particulate-matter-pm-basics. Accessed January 18. 2022.
- Environmental Protection Agency. Particle Pollution and Cardiovascular Effects. https://www.epa.gov/pmcourse/particle-pollution-and-cardiovascular-effects. Accessed October 11, 2022.