Current Air Pollution Standards Tied to Higher Heart Risks

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The study also looked at diagnoses of heart attacks and deaths from heart disease and cardiovascular disease in people whose exposures were below the current standard of 12 micrograms per cubic meter. The study showed a 6% increased risk of heart attack and a 7% increased risk of death from heart disease in adults exposed to air pollution at moderate concentrations of 10.0 to 11.9 micrograms per cubic meter compared to low concentrations of less than 8.0 micrograms per cubic meter. This suggests people would see health benefits if the new standard were 10.0 micrograms per cubic meter or less. 

Additional analyses found that the increased risk of heart attacks persisted even at concentrations of 8.0 to 9.9 micrograms per cubic meter compared to concentrations below 8.0 micrograms per cubic meter. This suggests the U.S. would see fewer heart attacks if the new standard were reduced to 8.0 micrograms per cubic meter.

“This is one of the largest studies to date to look at the impact of air pollution on heart disease,” said senior author Stephen Sidney, MD, MPH, a research scientist at the Division of Research. “Importantly, Kaiser Permanente’s electronic health records made it possible for us to account for other factors that might increase a person’s risk of having a heart attack or developing cardiovascular disease, such as smoking status, body mass index, or having other illnesses, such as diabetes. This allows us to be confident in our conclusion that fine particle air pollution has adverse associations with cardiovascular health.”

The study also showed that neighborhood socioeconomic status was tied to pollution exposure and the risk of cardiovascular disease. “We found strong evidence that neighborhood matters when it comes to exposures to this type of air pollution,” said co-author Stephen Van Den Eeden, PhD, a research scientist at the Division of Research. “The strongest association between exposure to air pollution and risk of cardiovascular events in our study was seen in people who live in low socioeconomic areas, where there is often more industry, busier streets, and more highways.” 

The researchers say their findings add important new information to ongoing policy discussions. “Our study clearly adds to the evidence that the current regulatory standards are not sufficient to protect the public,” said Dr. Alexeeff. “Our findings support the EPA’s analysis that lowering the standard to at least 10.0 micrograms per cubic meter is needed to protect the public. Our findings also suggest that lowering the standard to 8.0 micrograms per cubic meter may be needed to reduce the risk of heart attacks.”

About Kaiser Permanente

Kaiser Permanente is committed to helping shape the future of health care. We are recognized as one of America’s leading health care providers and not-for-profit health plans. Founded in 1945, Kaiser Permanente has a mission to provide high-quality, affordable health care services and to improve the health of our members and the communities we serve. We currently serve 12.6 million members in 8 states and the District of Columbia. Care for members and patients is focused on their total health and guided by their personal Permanente Medical Group physicians, specialists, and team of caregivers. Our expert and caring medical teams are empowered and supported by industry-leading technology advances and tools for health promotion, disease prevention, state-of-the-art care delivery, and world-class chronic disease management. Kaiser Permanente is dedicated to care innovations, clinical research, health education, and the support of community health.

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