What is PM2.5?

PM2.5 refers to fine particulate matter that is less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter or μm, making it incredibly small and, consequently, a significant health risk as it can land in the lungs and enter the bloodstream.

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how is pm2.5 related to air pollution?

Air pollution is a pressing global issue, and among the various pollutants that contribute to poor air quality, PM2.5 stands out as one of the most dangerous. PM refers to particulate matter also called particle pollution as a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets found in the air. PM2.5 does not include gas particles. PM2.5 refers to fine particulate matter that is less than 2.5 micrometers (microns) in diameter or μm, making it incredibly small and, consequently, a significant health risk as it can land in the lungs and enter the bloodstream. PM10 are considered coarse particles which refer to dust, pollen, and mold and if inhaled deposit in the upper respiratory tract. Gases, viruses, and soot are smaller ultrafine particles with diameters less than .01 microns (referred to as PM0.1)and can travel through the bloodstream to the brain. This post delves into the intricacies of PM2.5 air pollution, its sources, its effects on health, and measures to combat it.

Image 1: Factories release PM2.5 in the air
silver car with exhaust fumes
Image 2: Exhaust fumes contribute to PM2.5
Image 3: Fireworks release PM2.5 pollution

PM2.5 is a term used to describe fine inhalable particles with diameters that are generally 2.5 micrometers (μm) and smaller. To put this in perspective, the average human hair has a diameter of about 70 micrometers, making PM2.5 particles nearly 30 times finer. Due to their small size, these particles can remain suspended in the air for longer periods, increasing the chances of humans and animals inhaling them. 

www.airsupportproject.com/what-is-pm2.5/ CC BY-ND 4.0 PM10 is Pollen Dust Dander Combustion particles from cars, powerplants, and residential burning of fuels. PM 2.5 is Natural sources like wildfires, volcanic eruptions, and dust storms. In the center it says AIR POLLUTION | PARTICULATE MATTER | PM PM2.5 can be made in Factories that produce chemicals, metals, and paper. Human hair is 50-70 microns or μm PM10 includes particles that are 10 micrometers or μm or less in diameter and are considered coarse particles which refer to dust, pollen, mold and if inhaled deposit in the upper respiratory tract. PM2.5 refers to fine particulate matter that is less than 2.5 micrometers or μm in diameter. PM0.1 Smaller ultrafine particles with diameters less than .01 microns (referred to as PM0.1) can travel through the bloodstream to the brain. Examples include Gases Viruses Soot
Image 4: Different sources of particle pollution by size (PM10, PM2.5, and PM0.1) that contribute to poor ambient (outdoor) and indoor air pollution. Credit: Air Support Project | CC BY-ND 4.0

PM2.5 can originate from various sources, both natural and human-made:

  • Combustion Activities: This includes vehicle emissions, power plants, residential burning of wood, coal, oil, and other fuels.
  • Industrial Processes: Factories that produce chemicals, metals, and paper emit PM2.5 particles.
  • Natural Sources: Forest fires, volcanic eruptions, and dust storms can release large quantities of PM2.5 into the atmosphere.
  • Secondary Formation: PM2.5 can also form in the atmosphere from the chemical reaction of gases such as sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx).

WHAT ARE THE HEALTH IMPACTS OF PM2.5?

The small size of PM2.5 particles allows them to penetrate deep into the human respiratory system and even enter the bloodstream. This can lead to a range of health issues:

  • Respiratory and Cardiovascular Problems: Inhalation of PM2.5 can cause or exacerbate respiratory conditions like asthma, bronchitis, and other chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases. It also increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
  • Decreased Lung Function: Long-term exposure can lead to reduced lung function and infections.
  • Neurocognitive impacts: Short-term exposure is associated with decreased cognition and long-term exposure can lead to dementia.
  • Cancer: There’s a proven link between prolonged PM2.5 exposure and the development of lung cancer.
  • Premature Death: Vulnerable groups, such as the elderly, children, and those with pre-existing health conditions, are at a higher risk of premature death due to PM2.5 exposure.

Potential approaches to reducing PM2.5 levels in the air

Addressing the PM2.5 crisis requires a multi-faceted approach:

  • Regulation and Legislation: Governments can enact and enforce strict emission standards for industries and vehicles. Widespread adoption may require public agencies to release ventilation and filtration standards ensuring enforcement of IAQ standards for public buildings, schools, and workspaces.  
  • Public Awareness: Educating the public about the dangers of PM2.5 can lead to more sustainable choices, such as using public transport, increasing filtration, monitoring ventilation with CO2 monitoring, or adopting clean energy sources.
  • Air Quality Monitoring: Visible air quality monitoring in public spaces and schools has been adopted in some countries. Regular monitoring of air quality can provide real-time data on ventilation or particulate matter levels, helping authorities and individuals make informed decisions during pollution spikes.
  • Technological Solutions: Wide-scale implementation of existing solutions and innovations like air purifiers equipped to filter out PM2.5 particles or enhanced ventilation systems that dilute indoor air can help improve IAQ. On a larger scale, technologies that capture emissions at the source, such as in factories or vehicles, can also be beneficial. 

KNOWING BETTER AND BREATHING BETTER

Breathing in, I calm body and mind. Breathing out, I smile.

PM2.5 air pollution is a silent killer, affecting millions worldwide. While the problem is vast and complex, collective efforts from governments, industries, and individuals can make a significant difference. As we continue to understand the profound impacts of PM2.5 on global health, it becomes imperative to take proactive measures to safeguard our future. PM2.5 levels impact the Air Quality Index so make sure to understand the implications of each level and available monitoring resources. Once you know better, you can choose better. There are steps you can take to improve the IAQ in your home today. Opening windows (do not open during times of wildfire events or pollen season) to bring in fresh air can help dilute the air in your indoor space. Upgrade your filters to MERV 13 or the highest compatible option for your HVAC system. Place air purifiers in your living spaces or make your DIY air purifier. PM2.5 is just the beginning of our discussion on air pollutants. Stay with us and get in the know by following us on Twitter where we drop IAQ tips and tricks.

Image 5: Elephant kicking up dust
Epi-yeti

Epi-yeti

I am a creator with a passion for clean air and a background in software development and design, making me uniquely qualified to lead Air Support Project in the fields of technology and communications.