Fine particulate matter is a type of air pollution. It’s made of tiny particles, or droplets, that are so small they can be seen only under a microscope. They get into the air from burning coal, diesel fuel, gasoline, and wood.
Because fine particle pollution is so small, it enters your lungs and may even get into your bloodstream. This can harm your health in many ways. Fine particles can cause serious breathing problems for people with asthma or lung disease. They can also increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes in people who are susceptible to them. In addition, fine particles are a major component of smog and haze, which is unattractive and unhealthy.
What is Fine Particulate Matter?
Fine Particulate Matter (PM 2.5) is an air pollutant that is a concern for people’s health when levels in the air are high. PM 2.5 are tiny particles in the air that reduce visibility and cause the air to appear hazy when levels are elevated. Outdoor PM 2.5 levels are most likely to be elevated on days with little or no wind or air mixing.
As the name implies, fine particulate matter is very small — so small, in fact, that it can be difficult to detect without the help of technology. The EPA currently defines particles smaller than 2.5 micrometers (µm) as PM2.5. These particles can infiltrate the lungs and bloodstream, which makes them a dangerous threat to human health.
There are two main types of fine particulate matter: primary and secondary. Primary PM2.5 comes directly from sources like burning wood or coal and vehicle exhaust, while secondary PM2.5 is created when gases emitted from factories or vehicles react with sunlight or water vapor in the air.
The EPA limits the number of PM2.5 allowed in its air quality index, which measures pollution levels in cities nationwide. The EPA’s goal is to keep annual average concentrations below 12 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3), but some cities are already above this limit according to a 2016 report by the American Lung Association (ALA).
Why is fine particulate matter bad?
The main component of fine particulate matter is sulfate. Fine particulate matter can contain black carbon, organic carbon, nitrogen dioxide, and other pollutants.
Fine particulate matter is bad for you because it can get into your lungs and some may even get into your bloodstream. Exposure to fine particulate matter has been linked with a number of health effects. These include:
- premature death in people with heart or lung disease
- nonfatal heart attacks
- irregular heartbeat
- aggravated asthma
- decreased lung function
- increased respiratory symptoms, such as irritation of the airways, coughing, or difficulty breathing.
Why is PM 2.5 so harmful?
Although there are several different types of particulate matter in the air, the most harmful is PM 2.5. This is because it is small enough to be inhaled and deposited deep into the respiratory system, causing immediate effects on the lungs and arteries as well as long-term issues like cardiovascular disease and cancer.
PM 2.5 also contains a variety of toxic chemicals that are released from fossil fuel combustion, including heavy metals, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and carbon monoxide.
People who live in places with high levels of air pollution have a shorter life expectancy than those who don’t, according to research published by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Air pollution contributes to 7 million premature deaths globally each year — that’s more than double the number of people killed by obesity or alcohol.
What does fine particle pollution mean?
Fine particle pollution, or PM2.5, is an air pollutant that is a concern for people’s health when levels in the air are high. PM2.5 are tiny particles in the air that reduce visibility and cause the air to appear hazy when levels are elevated. Outdoor PM2.5 levels are most likely to be elevated on days with little or no wind or air mixing.
Fine particles can be inhaled deep into the lungs, where they can cause serious health problems, aggravate lung disease, trigger asthma attacks and acute bronchitis, and increase the risk of respiratory infections. People with heart or lung diseases, children, and older adults are the most likely to be affected by particle pollution exposure.
Fine particles are formed from emissions from power plants, industry, and motor vehicles, as well as from chemical reactions between pollutants. Some particles form when gases emitted from sources such as power plants and vehicles undergo chemical reactions in the atmosphere.
These particle types can be associated with different health effects:
- Sulfates are linked to respiratory problems.
- Nitrates are linked to respiratory issues as well as heart attacks.
- Carbon is likely to cause respiratory problems, heart attacks, and cancer.