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. 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

Image of a shaft of human hair.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
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 app to your phone. Try checking the AQI out when you plan your daily activities.

Local Air Quality Conditions

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Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Healthy Heart Toolkit
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.

Burn Wise
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-533K]
Idling vehicles affect human health, generate pollution, waste fuel, and cause excess engine wear. Learn about current idling regulations by state.

EPA Clean Diesel
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: Smoke-Free Lists, Maps, and Data  
This site provides a collection of state and local tobacco control laws including 100% smoke-free laws and e-cigarette laws.

References

  • American Lung Association: 2017 State of the Air [PDF-312K]
    A 2017 report about the air you breathe, including information on PM2.5 nationally and by state. (American Lung Association, 2017) 
  • 2009 Final Report: Integrated Science Assessment 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. (Environmental Protection Agency, 2009)
  • Clean Air Act [PDF-300K]
    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. (Environmental Protection Agency, 2004)
  • 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. (Current Environmental Health Reports, December 2015)
  • CDC HI-5 Initiative
    This initiative, which highlights 14 evidence-based community-wide population health interventions that can demonstrate positive health impact in five years or less, includes “Clean Diesel Bus Fleets,” with the goal of transitioning fleets of buses to clean diesel technology by retrofitting or modifying older diesel engines. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2016)

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