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Curious what Particulate Matter is? Here's a quick guide



Last updated: 6 January 10:53 AM (GMT)


By Muntaka Chasant | 676 words | Reading time: 2.5 min




What is Particulate Matter?


Particulate matter (PM), also known as particulate pollution, is a mixture of microscopic particles and liquid droplets suspended in the air.1


Several studies, including the work of Moreno T. and other researchers, have found a link between exposure to particulate pollutants and premature death from heart and lung disease.2


These small and fine pollutants pose the greatest risks to human health today, as they are linked to millions of premature deaths worldwide every year.3


According to the US Environmental and Protection Agency (EPA), the sizes of particulate matters are directly linked to their potential for causing health hazards. Particulate matter includes:


PM2.5: Inhalable particles 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter - about 30 times smaller than the width of a human hair.


PM10: Inhalable particles 10 micrometers or less in diameter.


Here are PM2.5 and PM10 compared to a single strand of human hair:

EPA Particulate Matter Illustration ATCMASK

Source: US EPA


What are the sources of PM?


Particulate matter can come from many sources including vehicle emissions, industries, rubbish fires, unpaved roads, and soot from biomass-fuelled cookstoves.


Some are formed in atmospheric reactions involving chemicals such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide, both pollutants from vehicles and industries.4


Are PMs dangerous to our health?


Yes, particulate pollution is recognized as a leading risk factor for premature death. The ultra-tiny particles of particulate matter can be inhaled, and are known to cause serious health problems.


Outdoor air pollution from particulate matter was responsible for about 4.2 million premature deaths worldwide in 2016, figures from the World Health Organization (WHO) reveal.5


Long-term exposure to fine particulate pollutants is often associated with reduced lung function and increased mortality from lung cancer and heart disease.


PM2.5s are known to cause the greatest problem as they can penetrate and lodge deep inside our cardiovascular system.


PM2.5 can exacerbate conditions such as asthma, heart disease and many respiratory conditions.6 7


Are there air quality standards for outdoor PM2.5 and PM10?


Yes. Many countries strictly follow the WHO air quality guidelines alongside their national standards. Below are the WHO guidelines for outdoor PM2.5 and PM10.


World Health Organization (WHO)'s air quality guideline for PM2.5 and PM10:8


Source: WHO μg/m3 = Micrograms per cubic meter


September 2021 WHO guideline update:

PM2.5 (5 μg/m3 annual mean / 15 μg/m3 24-hour mean)

PM10. (15 μg/m3 annual mean / 45 μg/m3 24-hour mean)


Based on a synthesis of many years of global scientific research, the WHO air quality guidelines for PM2.5 and PM10 set recommended limits and offer directions to minimize the health effects of air pollution. 


Countries have their own national particulate matter standards.


Air quality standards for the United States (US) and the European Union (EU).9 10


Constructed by ATCMASK.COM with data from US EPA and European Commission


What can I do to minimize exposure to air pollution?


 Regularly monitor the air quality in your area, and try as much as possible to limit outdoor activities in areas where PM2.5 and PM10 concentrations are high. 


 Because sources of outdoor air pollution are well beyond the control of individuals, residents in cities around the world are now investing in personal protection when key alert thresholds are exceeded.


 Several global studies have recorded a significant reduction in exposure to particulate pollutants when residents invested in personal protection including face masks, hepa air purifiers and home air filters.


• Jeremy Langrish and other researchers in a 2009 study on the benefits of face masks in reducing exposure to particulate air pollution discovered that wearing certified face masks minimized the adverse effects of air pollution on cardiovascular events. 11


• A separate study in 2012 by Julia Barrett saw reduced cardiovascular risks when participants used face masks.12 


 Steve Zhou and other researchers in a recent study also discovered that face masks were highly efficient in filtering pathogens and particulate pollutants.13


We recommend you invest in protective face masks with tested and certified filters in them like ATC MASK™ to minimize your exposure to particles found in air pollution. 


Feel free to contact us if you have any further questions. 









1. https://www3.epa.gov/region1/eco/uep/particulatematter.html (Retrieved October, 2018)
2. Moreno, T., Querol, X., Alastuey, A., Ballester, F., & Gibbons, W. (2007). Airborne particulate matter and premature deaths in urban Europe: The new WHO guidelines and the challenge ahead as illustrated by Spain. European Journal of Epidemiology, 22(1), 1-5. (Retrieved October, 2018)
3. http://www.who.int/news-room/detail/02-05-2018-9-out-of-10-people-worldwide-breathe-polluted-air-but-more-countries-are-taking-action (Retrieved October, 2018)
4. https://www.epa.gov/pm-pollution/particulate-matter-pm-basics (Retrieved October, 2018)
5. http://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/ambient-(outdoor)-air-quality-and-health (Retrieved October, 2018)
6. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00038-017-0960-y (Retrieved October, 2018)
7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2699820/ (Retrieved October, 2018)

8. http://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/ambient-(outdoor)-air-quality-and-health (Retrieved October, 2018)
9. https://www3.epa.gov/ttn/naaqs/standards/pm/s_pm_history.html (Retrieved October, 2018)
10. http://ec.europa.eu/environment/air/quality/standards.htm (Retrieved October, 2018)

11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2662779/ (Retrieved October, 2018)

12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3295371/ (Retrieved October, 2018)

13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2662779/ (Retrieved October, 2018)


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