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The Burden of Air Pollution on the Heart

​Published October 22, 2018

A medical professional uses a tabletAir pollution can take a significant toll on the cardiovascular system. Several decades of research have shown that both long and short-term exposure to air pollution can lead to accumulation of calcium in the coronary artery, changes in the heart and blood vessels, and cardiovascular events and even death from heart disease.

In an article published in the North Carolina Medical Journal titled Ambient Air Quality and Cardiovascular Health: Translation of Environmental Research for Public Health and Clinical Care,Exit EPA researchers Dr. Wayne Cascio and Dr. Tom Long say that air pollution’s cardiovascular effects pose an even larger public health burden than its respiratory effects. Yet, the authors note that—as shown in a study by the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control—only three percent of patients with heart disease discuss guidance to reduce exposure with a healthcare professional. 

“Through hard work and partnership with local, state, and federal agencies, North Carolina has reduced emissions and improved the quality of its air,” writes Cascio, a cardiologist who is the Director of EPA’s National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory. “Yet, for those individuals who are particularly sensitive to the adverse health effects of air pollution, namely older adults, those with chronic heart and lung disease, and children, additional actions to avoid exposure are prudent when air quality is poor.”

In the article, Cascio and Long explain the sources, exposures, and health effects of air pollution. They also discuss the potential for intervention strategies in the healthcare system to help reduce individual and population exposure and the accompanying risk from the cardiovascular effects of air pollution.

Learn more:

EPA's Healthy Heart Toolkit and Research