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What do we know about the link between air pollution and heart disease?

› Air pollution tied to Cardiovascular Risks in Women. National Institute of Health News

› Air pollution may cause and speed up artery disease. American Heart Association meeting report.

› Evidence has slowly been building to indicate that exposures to chemicals and other environmental substances can have a profound impact on cardiovascular health, Environmental Health Perspectives

› California Lung Association fact sheet: Health effects of PM

>Particulate Matter Air Pollution and Cardiovascular Disease. An Update to the Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association American Heart Association

>Air pollution raises women's heart disease risk

>Quality of air means quality of life. A Guide to Air Quality and Your Health

>Today's National Air Quality Forecast

What is the MESA Air study?

The purpose of the MESA Air Pollution study is to relate how the amount of air pollution you breathe may be related to early stages of heart diseases and diseases of the blood vessels and lung. The MESA Air study is scheduled to continue until 2014. The study is supported by the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

Participants in the MESA Air Pollution study will come from the MESA Study (up to 6,000 people), from another study related to MESA, the MESA Family study (up to 1,000 people), and from 300 people recruited specifically for our study living in or near Los Angeles and outside of New York City.

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The MESA Air Pollution study will collect air samples from the places where study participants live. The sample results will allow the researchers to estimate the air pollution levels, and see how those levels differ between regions or show changes over time. At the same time, non-invasive health tests will track whether study participants show subtle changes in their heart and blood vessels.

Some of the participants will have CT scans to see how much calcium has built up in their coronary artery (blood vessels that supply blood to the heart). These participants will also have an ultrasound to determine the thickness of the walls of their carotid arteries (arteries in their neck). Both of these tests can detect subtle signs of atherosclerosis. Blood tests on a smaller group will determine the degree of inflammation and vascular function.

These changes are usually so small that the participants don't have any symptoms, and may include plaques or deposits in the blood vessels, and signs of inflammation in the blood. The health test results will be adjusted for age, race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and specific cardiovascular risk factors such as diabetes, high blood pressure, smoking, and diet.

The MESA Air Pollution study will add state-of-the-art air pollution exposure information to the health information. Several types of air pollution monitoring will be completed including long-term daily monitoring at specific locations, widespread community-based monitoring, indoor and outdoor monitoring at a participant’s home, and personal monitoring. The sample results will be used to model each participant’s long-term individual exposure. It will also provide information on a subject’s proximity to pollution sources, as well as the efficiency of buildings to “block” pollution (“infiltration efficiency”).

The health results and the air pollution monitoring results can then be compared statistically to see if exposure to air pollution increases the risk of atherosclerosis. The study will also investigate whether major cardiovascular events, such as heart attacks and strokes, are associated with long-term exposure to polluted air.

Building on MESA

The MESA Air study will be built on the foundation of the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA), a large study of heart disease in a diverse, population-based sample of men and women aged 50-89. It is funded by the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health . The ongoing MESA study is located in six geographic areas, or field centers.


Our study takes advantage of specialized diagnostic centers already working on the MESA study. Laboratory work at the University of Vermont, evaluations of computed tomography (CT) scans by Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute, and the analysis by Tufts-New England Medical Center of ultrasound scans will provide valuable information on the subtle progression of cardiovascular disease in participants.

A tremendous amount of data will be collected and analyzed during the ten years of the MESA Air Pollution study. This includes past and present research efforts by the MESA study, ongoing work by the MESA Air Pollution study, and continued follow-up of all study participants. The CHS Coordinating Center, also located at the University of Washington, is responsible for data collection, storage, and distribution. Biostatisticians with the CHS Coordinating Center and other University of Washington departments will closely examine the collected data to see what relationship may exist between air pollution and cardiovascular disease.

Key Links

Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences (DEOHS)

Official MESA Website

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NIH/NHLBI)

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

EPA National Center For Environmental Research

American Heart Association

American Lung Association

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