You Don’t Need Oz to Give You a Healthy Heart

By Christina Motilall

When the Tin Man went to the Wizard of Oz to get a heart, I am sure he assumed it was a healthy one. But as we all know, hearts are tricky things, affected by any number of stressors—including, EPA scientists are starting to learn, pollutants.

Everything from what we eat to what we breathe influences our heart in some way. That is why the research of EPA’s Dr. Mehdi Hazari analyzing air pollution effects on cardiovascular health is so important.

By researching and developing new methods to assess cardiopulmonary effects of air pollution, Dr. Hazari is working to ensure that we understand all of the cardiovascular effects our air may have on us. Dr. Hazari calls the effects he is studying ‘latent effects’—ones we cannot see the symptoms of right away, but can lead to subsequent adverse responses triggered down the road.

Dr. Hazari stated that his research has “demonstrated that two health-compromised groups might be more susceptible than healthy individuals: those with hypertension and those with heart disease.” It seems these days we all know someone struggling with heart-related problems, and Dr. Hazari’s research is working to understand what long-term role air pollution may play in this.

The big difference between Dr. Hazari’s research and others I have heard of is that he is not necessarily examining air pollution (specifically ground-level ozone and particulate matter) as a toxicant, but rather as a stressor. “Even though we are sometimes faced with these stressors on a daily basis, our bodies compensate for the insult and continue functioning normally. But have we considered the long-term implications? Because as the effects of these stressors accumulate in the body over time, our ability to compensate decreases and we run the risk of something adverse happening,” Dr. Hazari explains.

And the big picture of Dr. Hazari’s work also means he gets a picture with the President. That’s right. This week he was one of two EPA scientists named as recipients of the 2011 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE). Next week, Dr. Hazari gets to travel to Washington, DC to meet the Commander-in-Chief and accept this prestigious award for innovative and internationally-recognized research. When asked how he felt about meeting the President, Dr. Hazari stated “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, a total honor!”

Along with President Obama, I value Dr. Hazari’s future-focused research illuminating risks to protect the heart health of myself and my loved ones. And you know what? I bet if the Tin Man were here, he would wholeheartedly agree.

About the author: Christina Motilall is an intern for the Office of Research and Development’s Science Communications Team.

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