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Particulate Matter (PM) Pollution

Health and Environmental Effects of Particulate Matter (PM)

Health Effects

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. 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
  • 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.

  • AirNow can help you monitor air quality near you, and protect yourself and your family from elevated PM levels.

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. Learn more about visibility and haze

Environmental damage

Particles can be carried over long distances by wind and then settle on ground or water.  Depending on their chemical composition, the effects of this settling may 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
  • affecting the diversity of ecosystems
  • contributing to acid rain effects.

Materials damage

PM can stain and damage stone and other materials, including culturally important objects such as statues and monuments. Some of these effects are related to acid rain effects on materials.

Further Reading

Particle Pollution and Your Health (PDF)(2 pp, 320 K, About PDF): 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 is important to limit your exposure to smoke -- especially if you may be susceptible.

EPA research on airborne particulate matter: EPA supports research that provides the critical science on PM and other air pollutants to develop and implement Clean Air Act regulations that protect the quality of the air we breathe.