The study, published in JAMA Network Open in February, focuses on “fine particle air pollution:” tiny pieces of soot produced by fuel-burning vehicles, smokestacks, and fires.
To determine its effects, researchers gathered data about patients from healthcare organization Kaiser Permanente over ten years, from 2007 to 2016. They identified each patient’s home to determine their exposure to fine particle pollution and then assessed whether the patient had experienced a heart attack or died from heart disease.
The study’s findings were clear: fine particle pollution matters.
Patients who were exposed to at least 12 micrograms of soot per cubic meter of air were 10% more likely to have a heart attack and 16% more likely to die of heart disease than those who experienced less than eight micrograms per cubic meter.
What do these results mean?
Currently, the EPA’s standard for fine particle pollution is that it should be kept under 12 micrograms per year, The Hill reports. But this study shows that people who are exposed to that amount of pollution are still experiencing health effects because of it.
“Neighborhood matters when it comes to exposures to this type of air pollution,” Stephen Van Den Eeden, one of the report’s authors, told The Hill.
The EPA recently proposed changing the guideline to between nine and 10 micrograms per cubic meter — not the gold standard set by this study, but still an improvement.
According to the agency, resetting the standard would save up to 4,200 lives per year and create billions of dollars worth of health benefits by making residents less likely to experience heart disease.
What can I do to reduce my risk?
While some exposure to air pollution comes from the surrounding environment, you can reduce your daily exposure by changing to clean, eco-friendly electric appliances and vehicles. The more people make these changes, the less air pollution each community will produce.
You can also check your local air quality at AirNow.gov and get suggestions for dealing with higher pollution levels.
AirNow recommends those who find they are currently exposed to extremely high levels of particulate matter air pollution — as one might be if they were in the vicinity of a forest fire – refrain from strenuous activity and stay inside when possible.
The organization notes that particle pollution can still get indoors and suggests purchasing a high-efficiency mechanical air filter or electronic air cleaner if you live in an area with high levels of this pollution.
Additionally, AirNow advises avoiding “anything that burns, such as wood fireplaces, gas logs, and even candles or incense.”
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