Science Wednesday:OnAir: Particle Pollution Causes Cardiovascular Disease, says EPA, American Heart Association

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Congressional staff, physicians, members of industry, and the public health community gathered on Friday, May 21 at the inaugural   Air Science 40 briefing, an event co-sponsored by EPA, the American Heart Association (AHA) and the House Committee on Science and Technology in recognition of the 40th anniversary of EPA air pollution research.

At the seminar, leading scientists presented evidence that air pollution causes cardiovascular disease and death.

The news that air pollution impacts the heart may have been new to some, but for others it served as official affirmation of a scientific link that researchers have been building a case toward for several years.

Dr. Robert Brook, physician and researcher of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Michigan, presented an official AHA statement that emphasized the “causal relationship between PM2.5 exposure and cardiovascular morbidity and mortality.”

Brook is lead author of the statement, which was produced by a large panel of scientific experts after an in-depth evaluation of the breadth of current scientific literature on the health impacts of air pollution.

Brook noted that the AHA statement panel reached consensus on the causal relationship between particulate matter and cardiovascular health independently from EPA, which reached a similar conclusion in its most recent Integrated Science Assessment for Particulate Matter (PM).

Dr. C. Arden Pope III, economist and environmental epidemiology researcher at Brigham Young University and co-author of the AHA statement, presented additional groundbreaking findings on the vast benefits of air pollution regulations to human health.

He shared his landmark 2009 finding that air pollution regulations over the past two decades have increased the average American life expectancy by “a half to a full year,” and discussed an array of other studies on air pollution’s impact on cardiac morbidity and mortality that have proved “reproducible and remarkably robust.”

The AHA statement and supporting science presented by Brook and Pope deems fine particle exposure a “modifiable factor contributing to cardiovascular morbidity and mortality,” and includes new recommendations to physicians on how to advise patients at high risk for air pollution health effects. The statement offers several practical suggestions for reducing particle exposure and limiting potentially harmful physical activity in relevant cases.

While science to support the link between air pollution and cardiovascular health is constantly evolving and developing, the conclusions presented Friday should be taken seriously, Brook said.

He emphasized one of the concluding sentences in the AHA statement presenting the scientific evidence linking cardiovascular with air pollution, which asserts: “at present, no credible alternative explanation exists.”

About the Author: Becky Fried is a science writer with EPA’s National Center for Environmental Research. Her OnAir posts are a regular “Science Wednesday” feature.