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Particle Pollution

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Updated February 08, 2011

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Definition:

Particle pollution, also known as particulate matter, is a mixture of tiny particles and liquid droplets that, when inhaled, can cause damage to the lungs. Particle pollution is typically made up of components like nitrates, sulfates, organic chemicals, metals, and soil or dust particles.

Which Particles Are More Harmful?

When it comes to particle pollution, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says that the size of the particle matters most. In general, smaller particles (those that are 10 micrometers or less in diameter) have a greater potential for causing health problems than larger ones. This is because smaller particles can enter the lungs much more easily during inhalation, by way of the nose and throat.

The EPA separates particle pollution into two distinct categories:

  • Inhalable course particles are found near dusty roadways or industrial areas, for example. They are larger than 2.5 micrometers and smaller than 10 micrometers in diameter.

  • Fine particles are found in smoke and haze. They can be emitted from forest fires, or they can form when gases from industrial power plants or cars reach the air and produce a chemical reaction.

What Can You Do To Reduce Particle Pollution?

The EPA has a number of regulations in place to help reduce particle pollution. For more information, visit the EPA website.

Also Known As: Particulate matter, air pollution, smog
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