Fellows in the News

The EPA tightened the PM2.5 standard because health experts keep finding impacts at lower levels than previously thought.

“For health effects, the big one now is premature mortality,” said Scott Fruin, an assistant professor at the University of Southern California who studies PM2.5’s health impacts. “We see reduced life expectancy and higher chances of developing cardiovascular disease in places where the standard isn’t met.”

PM2.5 seems to alter heart rate variability, which controls how heartbeats respond to stress, and it has been linked to heart failure, strokes and other cardiovascular problems. It also triggers asthma attacks and other respiratory problems.

“It’s still an open question – what is it about particulates that causes these effects in terms of components,” Fruin said. “Some components are certainly more toxic than others in PM but we just don’t know which components are most toxic.”

Based on various studies, experts estimate that fine particles are linked to about 800,000 deaths annually worldwide.

On days when soot increases by just 10 micrograms per cubic meter, there is about an 8 to 18 percent increase in overall deaths but “largely driven by increases in cardiopulmonary or cardiovascular deaths,” according to the American Heart Association.

That translates “into reduced life expectancies as large as a year or two in many urban areas,” Fruin said.

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