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. 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.

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. 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. 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. 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. That’s why breathing in particle pollution can cause serious problems, such as a heart attack for someone with heart disease.

Tools and Resources

AirNow: Air Quality Index Basicsexternal icon
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 report the AQI. You can also download an AQI appexternal icon to your phone. Try checking the AQI out when you plan your daily activities.

Particle Pollution and Your Patients’ Healthexternal icon
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.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Healthy Heart Toolkit and Researchexternal icon
This toolkit from EPA has resources for both clinicians and patients that explain how air pollution can trigger heart attacks and strokes and worsen heart conditions in people with known heart disease.

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.

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 Smoke: A Guide for Public Health Officials (Revised 2019) pdf icon[PDF – 5M]external icon
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.

Burn Wiseexternal icon
Burn Wise is a partnership between EPA, state agencies, manufacturers, and consumers that teaches the importance of burning the right wood, the right way, in the right appliance.

American Transportation Research Institute: Compendium of Idling Regulations  pdf icon[PDF – 274K]external icon
Idling vehicles affect human health, generate pollution, waste fuel, and cause excess engine wear. Learn about current idling regulations by state.

EPA Clean Diesel and DERA Fundingexternal icon
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 & Mapsexternal icon
This site provides a collection of state and local tobacco control laws, including 100% smoke-free laws and e-cigarette laws.

The Download Podcast: Particle Pollution and Heart Diseaseexternal icon
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.


Page last reviewed: February 2, 2022