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Health Effects of Particulate Matter


The air we breathe, sometimes also contains unhealthy concentrations of fine particulate matter (PM), according to the annual limit for this pollutant set by EPA. Like ozone, PM can cause serious respiratory problems, including decreased lung function and worsened asthma symptoms.

Fine and ultra-fine particulate matter is so tiny it can get into the bloodstream and also cause heart problems. In addition, exposure to PM has been linked to increased risk of premature death and cancer. As with ozone, children, the elderly and those with chronic lung or heart diseases are at greatest risk.

A large body of research findings indicate that exposure to fine particulate air pollution negatively affects cardiopulmonary health. According to the EPA, fine particles have been linked to cardiovascular symptoms, cardiac arrhythmias, heart attacks, respiratory symptoms, asthma attacks and bronchitis. These health problems can result in increased hospital admissions, emergency room visits and absences from school or work.

In addition to premature death and acute effects such as asthma attacks, a large body of research also has demonstrated long-term, chronic heart and lung health effects. Studies suggest that both the concentrations of PM pollution in the air and the length of exposure time affect the resulting health problems.

A recent study in Atlanta examined health effects of PM2.5 from different kinds of sources. The study found significant, positive associations between PM2.5 from vehicles and wood or other biomass burning and cardiovascular disease emergency room visits. Secondary sulfate-rich PM2.5, primarily from coal-fired power plants, was positively associated with respiratory disease related emergency room visits.

Read more about research on the health effects of particulate matter here.