Connecting the dots: Study links microscopic particles to heart disease, death

“A new study by the California Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) demonstrates an association between long-term exposure to ultrafine particle air pollution and death from heart disease,” wrote the OEHHA in a Feb. 25, 2015 press release. “Ultrafine air pollution particles are tiny – about 0.1 micron in diameter or roughly one-thousandth the width of a human hair. These particles are generated from gas and diesel motor vehicle engines, biomass burning and energy production.”

This first-of-its-kind study to look at what long-term ultrafine particle exposure impacts can have on people, involved other institutions working in conjunction with OEHHA, according to information presented in the release in question. The study itself was published online recently in the Environmental Health Perspectives scientific journal.

Human_respiratory_system-NIH[1] (340x226)“The study, titled ‘Long-term exposures to fine and ultrafine particles, species and sources: Results from the California Teachers Study Cohort,’ analyzed data from more than 100,000 middle-aged women whose health status was followed from 2000 through 2007. The findings, based on data from California teachers and administrators recruited from the State Teachers Retirement System, indicate that different types of tiny particles, including those formed from gas- and diesel-fueled vehicles, biomass burning and other combustion sources, were strongly associated with death from heart disease caused by blocked arteries.

“Key findings included:

  • “Ultrafine and ‘fine’ particles (2.5 microns in size, or about one-thirtieth that of a human hair) contributed to heart disease mortality.
  • “Certain constituents of ultrafine particles were strongly associated with death from heart attacks. These constituents included copper, iron, other metals, and elemental carbon (soot).
  • “For several constituents, the ultrafine particles were more strongly associated with death from heart attacks than those in the larger (but still tiny) fine particle size range.”

(Source: “Study Finds Long-Term Exposure to Ultrafine Particle Air Pollution Associated with Death from Heart Disease,” Press Release from the California Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, Feb. 25, 2015, http://oehha.ca.gov/public_info/press/ultrafinesPressRelease2015.html).

That seems quite definitive, and would appear to be in stark contrast with what newspaper columnist Lois Henry wrote once in a Bakersfield Californian editorial where she explained: “I’ve done numerous stories on studies showing that PM2.5 isn’t killing Californians. And, in fact, a growing number of studies are showing PM2.5 has zero effect on premature deaths.”

As an aside, it’d be interesting learning what Ms. Henry’s views in this regard are now, almost a year-and-a-half hence.

For more detailed discussion, see: “Enforcing smog rules this way is bad for business” (the fourth and final article of the grouping) here and “Can PM 2.5 lead to early mortality?” here.

Image above: U.S. National Institutes of Health: National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute

3 thoughts on “Connecting the dots: Study links microscopic particles to heart disease, death

  1. Secondhand smoke may cause early death and disease in both children and in adults who do not smoke. Can smoking thus be associated with death from heart disease caused by blocked arteries? It is said that combustion sources also contribute in this manner, how is that so? One does not always think of the microscopic consequences of a habit or even exposure to every day workplaces where pollution takes its toll, or tasks like being stuck in traffic five days a week. This brings me to a very important question: if we cannot avoid our exposure to such situations and thus not decrease our chances of obtaining heart diseases, how do we at least decrease its effect if not medically, scientifically with new interventions?

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