What is Particle Pollution?
Particle pollution is simply defined as solid particles or liquid droplets that are suspended in the air. These can be fine particles (PM2.5) with an aerodynamic diameter of 2.5 microns or less, or coarse particles (PM10) with an aerodynamic diameter of 10 microns or less. For a sense of scale, the average human hair is 70 microns in diameter.
Fine particles may be emitted directly into the atmosphere but are more commonly created by reactions of other pollutants. Fine particles in the air may consist of hundreds of different chemicals. Sources of direct PM2.5 emissions include forest fires and wood stoves. Sources of the precursor pollutants that chemically react to form PM2.5 include power plants, industries, and automobiles. Wind can carry fine particles hundreds of miles from its source. PM2.5 levels typically peak in winter but concentrations can also be high in summer.
Coarse particles usually result from some type of mechanical action such as crushing or grinding, or from wind-blown dust. Sources of coarse particles include roadways and dusty industries. Coarse particles are typically not transported great distances as are fine particles
Is Particle Pollution Hazardous To My Health?
Both coarse and fine particles pose health problems, because they can bypass the body’s natural defense mechanisms and affect both your lungs and your heart. Particles can become lodged in your lungs, and very fine particles may even get into your bloodstream. People with heart or lung diseases, children and older adults are the most likely to be affected by particle pollution exposure. Even if you are healthy, you may experience temporary symptoms from exposure to elevated levels of particle pollution. Scientific studies have linked particle pollution exposure to a variety of health problems such as:
- increased coughing or difficulty breathing
- decreased ability of the lung to transfer oxygen to the lung
- aggravated asthma
- chronic bronchitis
- irregular heartbeat
- nonfatal heart attacks
- premature death in people with heart or lung disease