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American Heart Month: Air Pollution and Your Health

2013 February 8

February is American Heart Month! To help spread the word about heart health, EPA scientists and staff will write each week about the Agency’s Green Heart effort to educate the public about of the connection between air pollution and your heart. Be sure to check back each week to learn more, and for tips on what you can do to stay healthy!

By Jason Sacks, Beth Owens, and Barbara Buckley

It’s February, which means that it’s Heart Health Month. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States. Many people associate heart disease with a poor diet or lack of exercise.  What you may not realize, though, is that exposure to air pollution, specifically small airborne particles, can impact heart health, particularly for people with cardiovascular disease. That’s why EPA has launched the “Green Heart” initiative.

Airborne particles, or particulate matter (PM), consist of a complex mixture of extremely small particles and liquid droplets that can be found in smoke and haze. Small airborne particles, known as fine PM, can be emitted from sources such as forest fires or formed when gases emitted from power plants, industries and automobiles react in the air.

Fine particles are very small—less than two and a half microns. To put it in perspective, the period at the end of this sentence measures more than 600 microns. When fine particles are breathed in, they pass through the throat and nose and enter the lungs. From there they can cause serious health problems in the rest of the body.

As EPA scientists, we make sure the most recent and scientifically sound research is used to protect the public’s health from the harmful effects of air pollution. Over the last 20 years, thousands of scientific studies have reported that breathing in fine PM can lead to harmful effects on the heart, blood, and blood vessels. These studies show that exposure to PM can cause premature death, strokes, heart attacks, and cardiac arrest for people who are already at risk.

As we celebrate Heart Health Month, take a minute to not only consider the physical and nutritional changes you can make to improve your heart health, but also the actions you can take to reduce your exposure to air pollution. For more information about what you can do please visit: http://epa.gov/greenheart/.

About the Author: Jason Sacks is an epidemiologist and Beth Owens and Barbara Buckley are toxicologists in EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment. They work on Integrated Science Assessments, which form the scientific basis of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS).

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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