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What is
particulate
matter?

pm-icon-no-text

Particulate matter, or PM, isn’t just one contaminant or pollutant. It’s a range of particles of dust, dirt, and liquids that become suspended in the air. Some of these are large enough to see, like smoke, smog, or soot, but the most harmful are smaller, invisible particles1. These can get into your lungs and even your bloodstream. The healthier the air, the fewer PMs.

9 out of 10 people breathe air that exceeds WHO guideline limits containing high levels of pollutants2.

Air pollution & PM:
Are they the same thing?

In a manner of speaking, yes. Air pollution is the presence of substances above the natural level in the air3. Polluted air can be harmful to the environment and to humans4.

There are different types of air pollutants, such as gases, particulates (both organic and inorganic), and biological molecules. PM therefore, is an air pollutant.

PM Illustrations_Air pollution-1

In a manner of speaking, yes. Air pollution is the presence of substances above the natural level in the air3. Polluted air can be harmful to the environment and to humans4.

There are different types of air pollutants, such as gases, particulates (both organic and inorganic), and biological molecules. PM therefore, is an air pollutant.

As particulate matter is so vast, scientists found a way to measure it. PM1 for example, refers to the size of the particle.

  • PM1 are extremely fine particulates with a diameter of fewer than 1 microns.
  • PM2.5 (also known as fine particles) have a diameter of less than 2.5 microns.
  • PM10 means the particles have a diameter less than 10 microns, or 100 times smaller than a millimeter.
PM particles_difference between

What’s the difference between PM2.5, PM1 and more?

As particulate matter is so vast, scientists found a way to measure it. PM1 for example, refers to the size of the particle.

  • PM1 are extremely fine particulates with a diameter of fewer than 1 microns.
  • PM2.5 (also known as fine particles) have a diameter of less than 2.5 microns.
  • PM10 means the particles have a diameter less than 10 microns, or 100 times smaller than a millimeter.
PM Illustrations_PM size_mobile-1 PM Illustrations_PM size-2 PM Illustrations_PM size-2

Can PM make you sick?

Yes, PM and pollution can harm your health because they are inhalable due to their small size. The size of particles is directly linked to their potential ability to cause health problems.

Also known as PM10, coarse particles have a diameter generally larger than 2.5 µm and smaller than, or equal to, 10 µm in diameter7. A measurement of PM10 includes particles below 2.5 um in diameter.

Fine particles (PM2.5) pose the greatest health risk6. This is because they can get deep into lungs and some may even get into the bloodstream, in fact exposure to them can affect your lungs and heart7. A measurement of PM2.5 includes particles below 2.5 um in diameter.

Ultrafine particles are 0.1um or smaller.

Also known as PM10, coarse particles have a diameter generally larger than 2.5 µm and smaller than, or equal to, 10 µm in diameter. A measurement of PM10 includes particles below 2.5 um in diameter.

Fine particles (PM2.5) pose the greatest health risk. This is because they can get deep into lungs and some may even get into the bloodstream, in fact exposure to them can affect your lungs and heart. A measurement of PM2.5 includes particles below 2.5 um in diameter.

Ultrafine particles are 0.1um or smaller.

How does PM impact my health?

We know PM can get deep into lungs and maybe even into our bloodstream, so how does PM affect our health? On top of this, research shows that there are three key areas of our health which are impacted by PM pollution: 

 

WHO estimates that around 7 million people die every year from exposure to fine particles in polluted air8

 

BLOWING NOSEIrritation of the eyes, ears, nose, and throat: Particulate matter can cause inflammation, even when the mucus membranes in your nose are doing their job and filtering out larger particles. Some studies show that breathing in PM is linked to a greater need for sinus surgery9. In the short-term it is likely to mean runny noses, sneezing, and itchy eyes10.



ASTHMA PUMPTriggering of asthma and allergies: Because PM inflames the airways, people with asthma are particularly susceptible to its effects and it also contributes to the development of the disease11. PM is also linked to allergic respiratory reactions, like hay fever12. You can learn more about improving the lives of asthma sufferers through optimizing indoor air quality here.



lungsAggravation of coronary and respiratory disease: The particles can cause flare-ups or worsen problems for people with coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)13.



In fact, research has suggested that pollution can affect people throughout their lifetime, and one study found that children and older people are among the most vulnerable to the effects of PM14.  Considering the extensive health impacts, checking PM levels with View Plus is vital. 

Where does PM come from?

Fine particles (PM2.5) can get deep into lungs and some may even get into the bloodstream, so it's important to know where they come from. PM is made up of a mixture of solids and liquids, both organic and inorganic, including dust, pollen, soot, smoke, complex chemicals, sulphates, mineral dust, and more15. Many believe that PM only builds up outdoors, but in fact it can become trapped indoors too, and even be released indoors.

Particulate matter outdoors

91% of people living in cities do not breathe in safe air16


PM comes from both man-made and natural sources. The man-made variety can be generated by industry, construction work, landfills, agriculture, motor vehicles with either petrol or diesel engines, and friction from brakes and tires17PM Illustrations_PM_outdoors

Natural sources include wildfires, pollen-producing plants, spray whipped up from water, soil, and even volcanoes and other seismic activities. ‘Secondary particles’ are created when gases react in the air to form PM. Nitrogen oxides emitted by traffic and some industrial gases can become solids or liquids in this way18.

Road dust, sea spray, pollen, or particles created by construction projects tend to be larger than PM10, while burning fuel, running engines, or processing for industry generally creates PM2.5 particles. Secondary particulate matter is also likely to be made up of these smaller, more damaging particles.

Fluctuations in PM2.5 have been linked to climate and weather variables including temperature, relative humidity and wind conditions. This makes sense, as the particulate matter in the air may be able to travel further, or be trapped for longer, depending on the weather19.

Particulate matter indoors

3.8 million people die every year from exposure to household air pollution20


Some of the PM you breathe in your home has made its way indoors from the environment outside. However, there are many things that create PM indoors too!

PM Illustrations_PM_indoorsEveryday activities creating PM

As you go about your daily routine, there are some activities that can generate PM indoors. Cooking for example, something we all do most days, can generate PM. Similarly, combustion activities such as burning candles, using fireplaces and cigarette smoking can add to the PM levels inside your home21. Part of it has to do with ventilation, unvented space heaters or kerosene heaters create PM and can get trapped indoors22. Even some some hobbies23, like woodworking, carving, and arts and crafts have been known to create them24.

Biological sources of PM

Indoor particulate matter can also come from biological sources, like mold or mildew spores, dust, and pet dander (tiny bits of skin shed by household pets)25. These forms of PM are thought to trigger allergic reactions26.

The levels of particulate matter in your home will depend on factors like the levels outdoors, the type of ventilation or filtration in your property, and the lifestyles of the occupants. If you don’t smoke, and there are few additional sources of particles, PM should be the same as, or lower than, the outdoor measurement.

What can I do to
reduce PM levels in my home?

You first need to know how high PM levels are in order to make successful changes. PM is rarely detectable without the use of equipment or instruments. The Airthings Dashboard provides local PM levels to Airthings Wave, Wave Mini, Wave Plus owners. Through the Airthings Dashboard you can know when there are high amounts of particulate matter outside.

Secondly, make small changes around your home to improve PM levels:

Air purifiers

Air purifiers can help filter out particulate matter. HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filters should be included in the air purifier you use, as these draw in air and then pass it through a dense, multi-layered barrier of meshed fibres, which block and trap particulate matter. The filters are made to comply with strict industry standards27. Remember to replace filters regularly, especially when you know your indoor PM levels are high.

Vacuuming

Studies have found that there is a significant resuspension of PM10 during vacuum cleaning28, yet it is part of our normal routine. Luckily there is one way around it. Changing vacuum bags often can help reduce PMs. On top of this, by choosing a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter, you can help to remove PMs in the process.

Regular servicing

You can have a professional inspect, clean, and tune-up your appliances annually to give you peace of mind. This could include having your central heating and boilers serviced, or your chimney swept thoroughly.

Government recommendations

In extreme cases, your local government may recommend closing your windows and staying indoors where possible. This is due to extremely high PM levels in a local area, sometimes caused by severe pollution events or natural disasters such as forest fires. Check with your local government and follow their directions.

Regular cleaning

Regular cleaning isn’t just a necessity to keep your home looking nice, it can also help PM levels indoors. One thing we often overlook is the cleaning of vents and fans, in both the bathroom and kitchen. The same goes for replacing or cleaning filters in home ventilation units. Give them a clean regularly to ensure there is no build up of unfriendly PMs.

Appliance ventilation

As some PMs can begin indoors, it’s a good idea to make sure that all your fuel-fired combustion appliances — like stoves, fires, heaters, and boilers — are properly ventilated to allow the fumes to escape outdoors.

Exhaust fans

In the kitchen, exhaust fans help send PM outside when you’re cooking, rather than letting it build-up indoors. Likewise, the filters on heating and cooling systems should always be changed in line with manufacturers’ advice29.

What do my PM levels mean?

Good

<10 μg/m3. Good PM levels, maintain them. By monitoring you can be alerted to pollution increases in your home.

 

Fair

≥10 μg/m3 and <25 μg/m3. Fair PM levels. Keep monitoring to ensure they do not increase. Try to neutralize PM sources; indoor cleaning habits, poor appliance ventilation & outdoor PM pollution could be the culprit. Find and fix!

Poor

≥25 μg/m3. Poor PM levels. Ventilation improvements, air purifiers, regular filter cleaning and more can help improve indoor PM levels. High PM outdoors will also have an impact. Try out these useful tips.

 

View Plus The most advanced air quality tech. Now with PM.

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Sources

  1. www.blf.org.uk/support-for-you/air-pollution/types
  2. www.who.int/health-topics/air-pollution#tab=tab_2
  3. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK368034/
  4. www.who.int/health-topics/air-pollution#tab=tab_1
  5. www3.epa.gov/region1/airquality/pm-human-health.html
  6. www3.epa.gov/region1/airquality/pm-human-health.html
  7. www.who.int/airpollution/data/en/
  8. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6635701/
  9. www.health.ny.gov/environmental/indoors/air/pmq_a.htm
  10. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4465283/
  11. www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0954611115001870
  12. www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/indoor-particulate-matter
  13. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4740117/
  14. www.greenfacts.org/en/particulate-matter-pm/level-3/01-presentation.htm#0p0
  15. blog.breezometer.com/what-is-particulate-matter
  16. blog.breezometer.com/what-is-particulate-matter
  17. www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412019305355
  18. breathelife2030.org/news/infographic-library/
  19. www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/indoor-particulate-matter
  20. www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/indoor-particulate-matter
  21. www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/indoor-particulate-matter
  22. www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/air-quality/causes-poor-indoor-air-quality.html
  23. www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/biological-pollutants-impact-indoor-air-quality
  24. link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40629-018-0078-7
  25. www.emw.de/en/filter-campus/iso29463.html
  26. pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18247227/
  27. www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/indoor-particulate-matter