EPA Scientists Support Air Quality Awareness

EPA Lab Director Dr. Wayne Cascio
By Wayne E. Cascio
MD, FACC, Director, National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory, Office of Research and Development, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

April 29 – May 3 is Air Quality Awareness Week, and the research staff at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Research and Development are raising awareness about the relationship between air pollution and heart and blood vessel disease. As a public health organization, we at the EPA continue to study the effects of environmental quality on heart and blood vessel health.

The most recent statistics on heart disease and stroke in the U.S. were published by the American Heart Association (AHA) on January 31, 2019. The statistics remind us once again that while tremendous progress has been made in reducing the impact of heart disease and stroke over the past five decades, it is still the leading cause of death in the United States. The AHA estimates that in 2018 over 90 million American adults (about 22% of the adult US population) had suffered a stroke or were living with a condition affecting the heart. And it’s concerning that obesity among American adults is increasing and diabetes, another risk factor for heart disease, affected almost 1 in 10 American adults as of 2018.

So, while the prevention of heart disease is straightforward – don’t smoke, be active and get plenty of exercise, control blood pressure and cholesterol, make a heart healthy diet a habit, avoid obesity and treat diabetes – only 2% of American adults meet all of these ideal behaviors.

3D rendered illustration of the human heartOver the last year, research conducted by EPA scientists contributed important new knowledge about the relationship between air pollution and heart and blood vessel disease. We learned in a study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association in April 2018, that wildfire smoke can trigger heart attacks, strokes, heart failure and abnormal heart rhythms in people predisposed to heart conditions. Ozone and air particle pollution may affect the electrical properties of the heart and this might explain the association between air pollution and abnormal heart rhythms, as found in another study published in October 2018 in Particle and Fibre Toxicology. In other research, EPA discovered that air pollution can increase some types of cholesterol in a way that suggests a higher risk of developing heart disease and stroke. Importantly, we found that improved air quality and meeting the EPA’s outdoor air quality standards has decreased the risk of air pollution- related premature death in the U.S.

Air Quality Awareness Week is an opportunity to bring attention to the research showing potential links between air pollution and health and recall the many members of our family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers who have been or are affected by heart disease and stroke. As scientists in the Office of Research and Development at EPA, we are proud of our contribution to the prevention of heart disease and stroke as we provide the scientific foundation for decisions made by states and communities to protect the environment, public health and heart health.

Learn more about EPA’s Healthy Heart research

About the author: EPA Lab Director Dr. Wayne Cascio spent more than 25 years as a cardiologist helping people take care of their hearts. Now he is bringing a broader view of public health to EPA by leading research on the links between exposures to air pollution and maintaining a healthy heart.

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