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Member Research and Reports

Yale: Scientist Finds Air Pollution’s Tiny Particles May Trigger Heart Attacks

Yale-affiliated scientist finds that even a few hours’ exposure to ambient ultrafine particles common in air pollution may potentially trigger a nonfatal heart attack.

Myocardial infarction is a major form of cardiovascular disease worldwide. Ultrafine particles (UFP) are 100 nanometers or smaller in size. In urban areas, automobile emissions are the primary source of UFP.

The study in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives is believed to be the first epidemiological investigation of the effects of UFP exposure and heart attacks using the number of particles and the particle length and surface area concentrations at hourly intervals of exposure.

“This study confirms something that has long been suspected—air pollution’s tiny particles can play a role in serious heart disease. This is particularly true within the first few hours of exposure,” said Dr. Kai Chen, assistant professor at Yale School of Public Health and the study’s first author. “Elevated levels of UFP are a serious public health concern.”

UFP constitute a health risk due to their small size, large surface areas per unit of mass, and their ability to penetrate the cells and get into the blood system. “We were the first to demonstrate the effects of UFP on the health of asthmatics in an epidemiological study in the 1990s,” said Dr. Annette Peters, director of the Institute of Epidemiology at Helmholtz Center Munich and a co-author of this paper. “Since then approximately 200 additional studies have been published. However, epidemiological evidence remains inconsistent and insufficient to infer a causal relationship.”

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