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Air pollution increases the risk of cardiopulmonary diseases

Air pollution is a major public health hazard worldwide. One of the main types of pollutants linked to health risks is ambient fine particulate matter (PM2.5), which consists of airborne particles smaller than 2.5 μm. According to guidelines established by the World Health Organization (WHO), annual PM2.5 levels should not exceed 5 μg/m3. However, China’s current levels are far higher than this standard, leading to over 1.4 million deaths each year. 

Although the country struggles steadily to reduce its PM2.5 footprint, a new review study led by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (China CDC) has found that high exposure to PM2.5 continues to substantially affect the mortality, morbidity, and risk factors for cardiopulmonary diseases across China.

The experts used data from recent large-scale, multi-center studies from China to clarify the health impact of both short-term and long-term exposure to PM2.5. The analysis revealed that PM2.5 increases the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases, including ischemic heart disease, arrhythmia, heart failure, and ischemic stroke, as well as a range of respiratory diseases. 

Moreover, the risks of death from cardiocerebrovascular diseases and respiratory diseases were found to increase by 0.12 percent and 1.68 percent, respectively, for every 10 μg/m3 increase in PM2.5 levels. Finally, some of the studies reviewed provided evidence that increases in PM2.5 levels were also linked to rises in hospitalization rates and pediatric outpatient visits for both cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. 

By using this evidence, the scientists proposed several intervention measures to mitigate the impact of ambient PM2.5 on cardiopulmonary health, including government policies to improve industrial emission standards, upgrade industrial boilers, adopt state-of-the-art industrial technology to reduce emissions, and promote clean fuels for residential use. 

On a personal level, citizens should use air purifiers and masks to protect themselves from the hazards of air pollution, particularly if they live in regions with high PM2.5 levels.

“The Chinese government has formulated carbon neutrality goals to reach a peak as soon as possible (before 2030), achieve rapid emission reduction by 2030 to 2050, and net-zero emissions by 2050 to 2060. Clean air action depends on effective supervision, inter-departmental cooperation to promote supervisory work, and the strict implementation of actions and requirements,” concluded senior author Xiaoming Shi, an expert in Population Health at China CDC.

The study is published in the Chinese Medical Journal.

More about fine particulate matter

Fine particulate matter, also known as PM2.5, refers to tiny particles or droplets suspended in the air with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers or smaller. These particles are so small that they can only be viewed with an electron microscope. PM2.5 comes from various sources, including combustion processes (e.g., vehicles, power plants, and wildfires), industrial processes, and natural sources such as dust storms and volcanic eruptions.

Due to their small size, fine particulate matter can be inhaled deep into the lungs, potentially causing various health problems. Exposure to PM2.5 has been linked to respiratory issues, cardiovascular diseases, and even premature death. Those with pre-existing respiratory or heart conditions, the elderly, and young children are particularly vulnerable to the harmful effects of PM2.5.

Air quality guidelines and standards established by organizations like the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set limits on the concentration of PM2.5 in the air to protect public health. Air quality monitoring networks and forecasting tools are used to inform the public about the levels of PM2.5 and other air pollutants, enabling individuals to take precautionary measures when necessary.

To reduce fine particulate matter emissions, various mitigation strategies can be implemented, such as adopting cleaner energy sources, improving vehicle emission standards, and implementing industrial emission control technologies. Public awareness campaigns and policy initiatives can also help promote behavioral changes that contribute to a reduction in PM2.5 emissions.

Cardiopulmonary Diseases

Cardiopulmonary diseases refer to a group of disorders that affect the heart and the lungs. These diseases can be interrelated, as the heart and lungs work closely together to ensure proper oxygenation and blood circulation throughout the body. Here are some common cardiopulmonary diseases:

Coronary artery disease (CAD)

CAD is the most common type of heart disease and occurs when the blood vessels that supply oxygen and nutrients to the heart muscle become narrowed or blocked by fatty deposits called plaques. This can lead to chest pain (angina) or a heart attack (myocardial infarction).

Heart failure

This condition occurs when the heart can’t pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs. It can be caused by various factors, such as high blood pressure, heart attack, or cardiomyopathy. Symptoms include shortness of breath, fatigue, and fluid retention.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

COPD is a group of lung diseases characterized by airflow limitation, typically caused by long-term exposure to irritants like tobacco smoke. The two main types are chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Symptoms include chronic cough, shortness of breath, and frequent respiratory infections.


Asthma is a chronic inflammatory lung disease that causes the airways to constrict, leading to difficulty breathing, coughing, and wheezing. It can be triggered by allergens, respiratory infections, exercise, or exposure to certain irritants.

Pulmonary hypertension

This is a condition characterized by abnormally high blood pressure in the arteries of the lungs. It can be caused by various factors, such as heart or lung diseases, blood clots, or certain medications. Symptoms include shortness of breath, fatigue, and dizziness.


Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi. It leads to inflammation of the air sacs in the lungs, which can fill with fluid or pus, causing difficulty breathing, cough, fever, and fatigue.

Prevention and management of cardiopulmonary diseases involve adopting a healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise, a balanced diet, maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding tobacco smoke and excessive alcohol consumption, and managing stress. Additionally, regular medical check-ups and appropriate vaccinations can help in early detection and treatment.


By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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