Particulate matter—also known as particle pollution or PM—is a complex mixture of extremely small particles and liquid droplets. Particle pollution is made up of a number of components, including acids (such as nitrates and sulfates), organic chemicals, metals, and soil or dust particles.
The size of particles is directly linked to their potential for causing health problems. EPA is concerned about particles that are 10 micrometers in diameter or smaller, because those are the particles that generally pass through the throat and nose and enter the lungs. Once inhaled, these particles can affect the heart and lungs and cause serious health effects.
EPA classifies particle pollution into two categories:
The average human hair is about 70 micrometers in diameter—making it 30 times larger than the largest fine particle.
These particles come in many sizes and shapes and can be made up of hundreds of different chemicals. Some particles—known as primary particles—are emitted directly from a source, such as construction sites, unpaved roads, fields, smokestacks, or fires. Others form in complicated reactions in the atmosphere of chemicals, such as sulfur dioxides and nitrogen oxides that are emitted from power plants, industries, and automobiles. These particles—known as secondary particles—make up most of the fine particle pollution in the country.
EPA regulates inhalable particles (fine and coarse). Particles larger than 10 micrometers (sand and large dust) are not regulated by EPA.
Health: Particle pollution contains microscopic solids or liquid droplets that are so small that they can get deep into the lungs and cause serious health problems. 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.
Visibility: 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.
Reducing particle pollution: EPA’s national and regional rules to reduce emissions of pollutants that form particle pollution will help state and local governments meet the Agency’s national air quality standards.
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