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Particulate Matter (PM)

Health

The size of particles is directly linked to their potential for causing health problems. Small particles less than 10 micrometers in diameter pose the greatest problems, because they can get deep into your lungs, and some may even get into your bloodstream.

Exposure to such particles can affect both your lungs and your heart. Small particles of concern include "inhalable coarse particles" (such as those found near roadways and dusty industries), which are larger than 2.5 micrometers and smaller than 10 micrometers in diameter; and "fine particles" (such as those found in smoke and haze), which are 2.5 micrometers in diameter and smaller.

The Clean Air Act requires EPA to set air quality standards to protect both public health and the public welfare (e.g. visibility, crops and vegetation). Particle pollution affects both.

Health Effects

Particle pollution - especially fine particles - contains microscopic solids or liquid droplets that are so small that they can get deep into the lungs and cause serious health problems. Numerous scientific studies have linked particle pollution exposure to a variety of problems, including:

  • premature death in people with heart or lung disease,
  • nonfatal heart attacks,
  • irregular heartbeat,
  • aggravated asthma,
  • decreased lung function, and
  • increased respiratory symptoms, such as irritation of the airways, coughing or difficulty breathing.

People with heart or lung diseases, children and older adults are the most likely to be affected by particle pollution exposure. However, even if you are healthy, you may experience temporary symptoms from exposure to elevated levels of particle pollution. For more information about asthma, visit www.epa.gov/asthma.

Environmental Effects

Visibility impairment
Fine particles (PM2.5) are the main cause of reduced visibility (haze) in parts of the United States, including many of our treasured national parks and wilderness areas. For more information about visibility, visit www.epa.gov/visibility.

Environmental damage
Particles can be carried over long distances by wind and then settle on ground or water.  The effects of this settling include: making lakes and streams acidic; changing the nutrient balance in coastal waters and large river basins; depleting the nutrients in soil; damaging sensitive forests and farm crops; and affecting the diversity of ecosystems. More information about the effects of particle pollution and acid rain.

Aesthetic damage
Particle pollution can stain and damage stone and other materials, including culturally important objects such as statues and monuments. More information about the effects of particle pollution and acid rain.

You will need Adobe Acrobat Reader to view the Adobe PDF files on this page. See EPA's PDF page for more information about getting and using the free Acrobat Reader.

For more information on particle pollution, health and the environment, visit:

Particle Pollution and Your Health (PDF) (2pp, 320k): Learn who is at risk from exposure to particle pollution, what health effects you may experience as a result of particle exposure, and simple measures you can take to reduce your risk.

How Smoke From Fires Can Affect Your Health: It's important to limit your exposure to smoke -- especially if you may be susceptible. This publication provides steps you can take to protect your health.

Integrated Science Assessment for Particulate Matter (December 2009): This comprehensive assessment of scientific data about the health and environmental effects of particulate matter is an important part of EPA’s review of its particle pollution standards.


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