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2012 EPA Research Progress Report

Protecting Cardiovascular Health from Air Pollution

EPA scientists and grantees are making important new discoveries about the links between air pollution and cardiovascular health—part of the Agency’s commitment to protecting human health. The research is giving medical experts new insight into how pollution affects the human cardiovascular system, including the finding that a combination of pollutants can cause much greater health problems than just a single agent alone.

In 2012, EPA and EPA-funded studies revealed important insight into the link between particulate matter (PM) air pollution and cardiovascular health including the following.

  • A team of EPA-supported epidemiologists from Harvard and Brown Universities examined the medical records of 1,700 stroke patients in the Boston area over a 10-year period and compared them to hourly measurements of fine particle air pollution. They found a link between the pollution and an increased risk of ischemic strokes (the kind that occur when blood vessels to the brain are blocked).
  • EPA scientists collaborated with researchers from Duke University to find that people exposed to a combination of particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide may suffer worse health effects than just particulate matter alone.
  • In a study by EPA scientists, researchers found the potential for omega-3 fatty acids to protect the cardio vascular system from the harmful effects of fine particulate matter.

EPA scientists also advanced the understanding of the link between cardiovascular health and another air pollutant: ground level ozone. The scientists discovered links between ozone exposure and key indicators of cardiovascular health, including changes in heart rhythm, increased levels of an inflammation marker, and decreases in compounds that help dissolve artery-clogging blood clots. While previous studies had shown statistical associations between ozone exposure and such health problems, the EPA research identified a biologically-based explanation for these effects.

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