Particulate matter: sources of pollution and impact on health

Particulate matter ealth: 

According to the WHO, nine out of ten citizens living in urban areas are exposed to fine particle-laden air, which represents a health risk for individuals. It is strongly recommended to monitor one’s exposure to fine particles and to air pollution in general.

 

 

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“Particulate air pollution is shortening lives around the world, even more than cigarettes. There is no greater current risk to human health.”

Michael Greenstone,
Milton Friedman Distinguished Service Professor in Economics, University of Chicago

Summary

What are particulate matter?
What are the sources?
What are the dangers of particulate matter on health?
How to reduce and measure particulate matter emissions?

What are particulate matter? 

Particulate matter (PM) are microscopic solid matter suspended in the atmosphere.

Particulate matter is classified according to its particle size. PM2.5 are particles with a diameter of 2.5 microns (μm) or less. PM10 are coarse particles with a diameter of 10 micrometers or less. These last two are the main ones but there are other classifications of suspended particles such as PM1, PM3, PM4, PM5.

As a reminder, one micron = 0.001 millimeter.

What are the sources?

Primary particulate matter

Primary particulate matter, i.e. those emitted as such into the atmosphere, come from both outdoor and indoor sources.

  • Indoors: particulate matter are produced by common indoor activities such as tobacco smoke, cooking, burning candles or oil lamps, and the operation of fireplaces and fuel-burning appliances (e.g. kerosene heaters).
  • Outdoor: Particulate matter come mainly from vehicle exhaust but also from other operations that involve the burning of fuels such as wood, oil or coal, agriculture and natural sources such as forest and grass fires.

Secondary particulate matter

So-called “secondary” particulate matter are formed in the air by physical-chemical reactions from other pollutants such as sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), ammonia (NH3) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

These chemical reactions can occur miles away from the original source of the emissions and fine particles can be transported long distances from their source, events such as forest fires or volcanic eruptions can increase particulate matter concentrations hundreds of miles away from the event.

What are the dangers of fine particles on health?

According to the WHO, these particles are highly carcinogenic.

Because of their ability to penetrate deep into the lungs and bloodstream. It has been found that the smaller the particle, the higher the health risk! PM2.5 is one of the main sources responsible for indoor air related diseases.

Short-term health effects

In the short term, exposure to particulate matter can cause:

  • Irritation of the eyes, nose and throat
  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose
  • Shortness of breath

Long-term health effects

In the long term, the impact of particulate matter can be more important such as aggravation of asthma, cough and bronchitis in children, reduced lung function, reduced life expectancy, cardiovascular diseases, respiratory diseases and lung cancer.

Thus, children, the elderly, pregnant women and people with respiratory problems may be particularly sensitive to fine particles.

AQLI shows that, on average, particulate air pollution reduces global life expectancy by about 2 to 5 years.

How to reduce and measure fine particle emissions?

By reducing air pollution levels, countries can reduce the burden of disease caused by stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, and chronic and acute respiratory diseases, including asthma. The lower the levels of air pollution, the better the cardiovascular and respiratory health of the population in the long and short term.

However, there are basic solutions that everyone can adopt to limit particulate emissions:

  • Avoiding high traffic roads
  • Avoid using incense, candles, room spray
  • Varying cooking methods
  • Ventilate after and during cleaning 

In order to measure and monitor exposure to particulate matter , the Meersens solution around environmental data, based on modeling and deployment of sensors (indoor or outdoor) will allow to make visible the invisible in 1 click!

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