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Healthy Hearts and Clean Air: An EPA Science Story

2014 February 5
Lek Kadeli

February 5, 2014
2:51 pm EDT


This month is American Heart Health Month. I invite you to join me in understanding how EPA scientists and their partners are learning how to better protect a group of citizens who are among the most at risk from poor air quality: those who suffer from heart and other cardiovascular diseases.

Our researchers have made important discoveries linking the impact of poor air quality on cardiovascular health. For example, EPA scientists Robert Devlin, Ph.D., and David Diaz-Sanchez and their colleagues published one of the first studies looking at the effects of ozone exposure on heart health. They discovered a link between breathing ozone and inflammation, and changes in heart rate variability, and proteins that dissolve blood clots that could be risk factors for people with heart disease.

Drs. Devlin and Diaz-Sanchez, along with EPA cardiologist Dr. Wayne Cascio, are part of an Agency effort to spread the word about the results of EPA clean air research. We will be highlighting those efforts on the Agency’s science blog, It All Starts with Science, on our science Twitter feed @EPAresearch, and elsewhere as part of our Healthy Heart Month activities.

I invite you to follow these updates and learn more about:

  • How EPA scientists are raising awareness of heart disease and its link to air pollution and other environmental factors;
  • The types of air pollutants, such as particulate matter, that can increase symptoms or cause heart attacks in people with heart disease; and
  • Steps that cardiac and other patients can take when pollutants are expected to reach unhealthy levels in their communities. Spoiler Alert! They should monitor the daily Air Quality Index (AQI) and reduce exposure to unhealthy levels of air pollution on days that are code orange (“unhealthy for sensitive groups”) or higher (codes red and purple).

The pursuit of cleaner, healthier air has been a cornerstone of EPA’s mission to protect human health and the environment for more than 40 years. And in that time we have made remarkable progress: since just 1990, levels of six of the most important, health-related air pollutants (ozone, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and lead) have dropped nearly 60 percent.

EPA science laid the foundation for all those achievements. And today, our researchers are committed to learning how to extend those to even the most our most vulnerable citizens. I’m grateful to our scientists who are working to make sure that everyone in this country—no matter how old they are, where they live, or the status of their health—has the air quality they need for strong, healthy hearts.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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2 Responses leave one →
  1. Alan Smith permalink
    February 6, 2014

    From the many tragic e-mails-I receive, air pollution is deteriorating in North America from Alaska to Arizona. The increase in particulates and carcinogenic gases such as formaldehyde and benzene is particular troubling. EPA approved wood stoves are a failure yet the EPA may approve even deadlier models such as the OWBs. The problem should never have arisen as the British were pouring millions of pounds to make their municipalities smoke-free as the cost of treating smoke-related diseases is more than any health care system can handle.
    Alberta Director Canadian clean Air Alliance

  2. Joe Licari permalink
    February 6, 2014

    I read this article with great interest, as I do with most articles related to air pollution. I have an interest in the effects of air pollution on a certain population group and that is long-haul truck drivers.

    There is research noting the health issues associated with this occupation. Besides long hours, stress, lack of exercise, sitting for hours, poor meal choices, and sleeping in their truck sleeper berths, drivers can be exposed to vehicle pollution nearly 24/7. They are exposed to it while on the road and are exposed to it while parked. Federal Hours-of-Service regulations mandate that long-haul drivers park for at least 10 hours a day and for at least 34 hours once a week. The reason is to reduce driver fatigue, which is needed, but a consequence of these regulations is truck parking areas congested with heavy-duty trucks idling their engines when it is hot or cold or to supply power for on board amenities.

    I have seen articles reporting on issues such as particulate matter changing good cholesterol into bad, higher concentrations of air pollutants inside truck cabs compared to the outside air, the inflammatory response of very-fine particulate matter (which makes me question of DPF filters actually filter out particle of such extremely small size), and the medley of health issues experienced by truckers to a higher extent than the general public, including life expectancy. I even read an article claiming that breathing diesel emissions can in itself contribute to weight gain.

    Regardless of the methods or technologies used to reduce idling it seems that there needs to be greater emphasis on this issue. I see truck stops and service centers where drivers park side by side with sometimes two to three hundred vehicle within on parking area as a community in and of itself. I get to go home to relax and sleep. A long-haul driver gets to park in a congested lot and sleep in his sleeper berth.

    With driver fatigue being such an important national issue today, shouldn’t the rest environment of truckers and the air they breath and their health be a national imperative to address and improve. Wouldn’t eliminating idling and exposure to diesel emissions greatly improve the condition of long-haul drivers?

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