Health of Effects of Particulate Matter Size and Air Pollution
While everyone understands that air quality can lead to human disease and other health problems, most people do not know the various types of pollution affects our bodies. Because of this, you might not be adequately prepared to protect yourself or your loved ones against the hazards of exposure. Sure, we can eliminate much of the pollution as possible, this is not always feasible. Fortunately, with a bit of knowledge, you can take the right precautions whenever pollution strikes.
What is Particulate Matter?
Most of the problems causes by air pollution comes from the ambient particle pollution that is always present. That’s right. The air you breathe always has some mix of tiny solid and liquid particles floating in it. Also called particulate matter (PM), these microscopic particles come from a variety of organic and inorganic human and natural sources.
Particle Sizes and Effects
Most of the time, PM are too small of us to see though they can become opaque with a high enough saturation. Even still, any given volume of air can have several different sizes of particles suspended in it. Our bodies can withstand most of the larger particles, but things get riskier as the particles get much, much smaller than a strand of hair.
Because of how unhealthy these particles can become, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and researcher group them into three broad categories.
- Coarse particles (PM10) – large particles, such as wind-blown dust, ranging from 2.5 to 10 microns in diameter.
- Fine particles (PM2.5) – The vast majority of airborne particles, including smoke and haze. They range up to least 2.5 microns.
- Ultrafine particles (PM1) – The smallest of the particles with diameters less than 100 nanometers. They are small enough to pass into your blood and circulate throughout your body.
While you will find all types of particles everywhere, some form in higher concentrations in certain regions and atmospheric conditions. For example, sulfates are common in the Midwest, Southeast, and Northeast states, while you will find nitrates concentrated in California, the Northwest, and North Central United States.
Health Effects of Particulate Exposure
Unfortunately, we have limited understanding how air pollution affects our bodies. While there is ample research on fine particles, data on ultrafine particles is virtually non-existent. The lack of knowledge is so bad that most expert just public outreach efforts such as National Particle Component Toxicity (NPACZT) program just label all particles as hazardous.
However, we know different size particles require different precautions with stuff smaller than 10 micrometers being the worst offenders in terms of health.
Either way, If you already suffer from a heart or lung disease, particle pollution exposure will enhance these issues.
Particulate Matter Risk Factors
Air pollution affects everyone, but some people are more susceptible for severe complications and may require hospitalization. This is especially true for older adults, children, and the physically active.
Some common signs of exposure include:
- Eye, nose, or throat irritation
- Chest tightness and discomfort
- Unusual fatigue
- Shortness of Breath
If you experience any of these symptoms, you can prevent prolong exposure by limiting or discontinuing your planned activities or exercise during times of elevated risks. You can also plan these things around them if the National Parks Service and the EPA can forecast them in advance.
All air pollution is harmful. Size just affects the severity of it.
While we do not fully understand how particulate matter affect sour bodies, we can still do something to protect ourselves from air pollution. Regardless of their size, all particles can harm us if we let them. Only by taking a few precautions, you can prevent a hazy day from becoming a disaster.