Referring to existing studies on the human cost of pollution, the AHA said that particulate matter likely contributed to the deaths of approximately 60,000 people each year. "This is a staggering loss of life that can be eliminated by stricter emissions standards as proposed by the EPA," it said in a statement.
While the relative risk of being exposed to air pollution was still small when compared to the effects of smoking, obesity, or high blood pressure, the AHA said pollution is contributing to a substantial increase in mortality rates and characterized it as "a serious public health problem."
How serious is the risk? According to the AHA, residents of the most polluted U.S. cities could lose between 1.8 and 3.1 years because of exposure to chronic air pollution. The people most susceptible to health risks from exposure to air pollution were found to include the elderly, people from lower socioeconomic populations and diabetics.
The AHA statement drew particular aim at particulate matter in the atmosphere, which it said has the potential to cause or exacerbate cardiovascular disease.
"Numerous epidemiological studies conducted worldwide have demonstrated consistent associations between short-term elevations in [particulate matter]and increases in daily cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. Several studies have also reported adverse cardiovascular outcomes in relation to long-term [particulate matter] exposure," it said.