Particle pollution is not something on everyone’s radar, but it is very common and potentially very harmful to our health. The EPA defines particle pollution, also known as particulate matter or PM, as a “general term for a mixture of solid and liquid droplets suspended in the air. Particle pollution comes in many sizes and shapes and can be made up of a number of different components, including acids (such as sulfuric acid), inorganic compounds (such as ammonium sulfate, ammonium nitrate, and sodium chloride), organic chemicals, soot, metals, soil or dust particles, and biological materials (such as pollen and mold spores)”.
Particle matter is created by a number of day-to-day activities, not only outdoors, but also in your home. From cooking dinner for your family at home to driving your car and the burning of fossil fuels at a local power plant, particle matter is released into the air almost continuously. These particles pose dangerous to your health as they can be inhaled into the lungs and penetrate deep into the body’s respiratory system, causing numerous health issues, especially in those suffering from asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). PM has also been connected to eye and throat irritation as well as more serious conditions such as low birth weight, heart attacks and lung cancer. A 2017 study found that more than 8 million people per year die early from air pollution exposure.
Particle Size Matters
The EPA also reports that the size of the particle matters most when talking about particle pollution. It is the smaller particles (10 micrometers and under in diameter) that cause greater health risks than larger ones as these tiny particles can enter the lungs much easier when inhaled via the nose or throat. Some are so small, in fact, that they can even enter the bloodstream. The agency estimates that 13,000 deaths could be prevented annually in the United States by reducing fine particle pollution by 10%.
Particle pollution is divided into two different categories:
- Inhalable coarse particles: These are typically found in industrial areas or near dusty roadways. Their diameter is smaller than 10 micrometers and larger than 2.5 micrometers. Grinding operations and dust from traffic that is stirred up are the main sources of this size of particle pollution.
- Fine particles: These are found in haze and smoke. They can form from forest fires or when the gasses from cars or power plants meet the air which produces a chemical reaction.
Protecting Yourself from Particle Pollution
Particle pollution is all around us, but there are steps you can take to protect yourself.
- Familiarize yourself with the EPA’s Air Quality Index. This is reported daily on weather websites, apps and broadcasts and should be checked regularly.
- Change your plans to spend more time indoors. If you see the Air Quality Index is expected to be problematic, try not to plan any outdoor activities that cause heavy breathing (e.g. take a walk instead of a jog) and avoid busy roads with heavy traffic.
- Take extra care of those most susceptible. Babies, children, the elderly and those suffering from lung or heart conditions are most affected by particle pollution. Take extra care to be sure to protect those that fall in these categories.
The problem of particle pollution can be particularly dangerous indoors, as not only do outdoor particles seep inside but indoor activities can cause more particles, including fireplaces, candles, and wood-burning stoves. In order to reduce the risks of particle pollution indoors, you want to make sure you are utilizing the best air filtration in your home. Make sure you are using an air filter that is made properly and fits correctly in your homes HVAC system. All filters are not created equal. Some do a good job of initially filtering out dangerous particles but quickly degrade, making them no longer effective. Others are made to be useful and effective long term while reducing harmful airborne particles. With your health on the line, it is a good idea to invest in an air filter that will work efficiently long term – after all, you can’t put a price on good health and safety.
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