PM2.5 pollution is something you might never have heard of, but if you’re interested in sustainability, climate change, air pollution and how to live a healthy life, then it might be something you need to know about. In this blog post I’ll dive into 13 scary truths about PM2.5 pollution – what it is, why it matters, and whether we can do anything about it…
- What is PM2.5 pollution?
- 1. It is the most harmful particulate matter
- 2. PM2.5 particles can travel into our lungs
- 3. It’s not just our lungs the pollution can impact
- 4. PM2.5 particles can follow you inside
- 5. Low wind levels have an impact
- 6. There are many causes of PM2.5 pollution
- 7. Levels are higher in urban areas
- 8. PM2.5 is monitored hourly in some places
- 9. Some people are more at risk than others
- 10. PM2.5 particles are over 130 times smaller than a grain of salt
- 11. Air pollution kills millions every year
- 12. In some countries, levels are getting worse every year
- 13. PM2.5 reduces visibility
- Important facts about PM2.5 pollution
- PM2.5 pollution- FAQS
- PM2.5 pollution- To conclude
What is PM2.5 pollution?
Before we get deeper into the 13 scary truths about PM2.5 pollution, it makes sense to present you with a base definition of what it actually is. I first learnt about PM2.5 when I lived in China, when I experienced the realities of poor air quality and air pollution first hand. But this isn’t just a problem in China…
PM2.5 is otherwise known as fine particulate matter, which is an air pollutant that can cause health problems when the levels are too high. The particles are absolutely tiny, but when there’s lots of them in the air they can make it hazy and cause visibility issues too. As this article goes on you’ll learn more about these nasty little things – so let’s look at 13 scary truths about PM2.5 pollution!
1. It is the most harmful particulate matter
Particulate matter exists across four categories. They are: coarse, PM10, PM2.5 and PM1. Those in the coarse category are the biggest, while PM1 particles are very very very small. They are measured in microns. There is limited research and evidence about PM1 particles, but both PM10 and PM2.5 can be inhaled due to their small size which is of course harmful to human health.
You can read a more in depth explanation about particulate size in this article.
However, as mentioned, PM2.5 pollution is said to be the most harmful and dangerous to our bodies.
2. PM2.5 particles can travel into our lungs
This is why they’re so dangerous. Being so small, they have the ability to enter your respiratory tract and travel right the way into your lungs. Long term exposure to these tiny particles can really irritate your lungs, causing coughs and of course impacting existing conditions such as asthma. Research has also suggested that exposure to PM2.5 pollution is linked with higher rates of chronic bronchitis in recent years, as well as increased death rates related to lung cancer and heart disease.
3. It’s not just our lungs the pollution can impact
While PM2.5 particles do travel through our bloodstream and into our lungs, they also have a more immediate impact on other parts of our bodies. For example they can irritate our throats, causing a tickly and annoying cough – and they can make your eyes itchy, or worsen existing skin conditions like eczema or psoriasis. It’s all VERY sciencey, but if you want to know more in depth about the impact it can have on the skin then this article goes into a lot of detail.
One thing the article suggests is that the epidermis, the outermost part of the skin, provides a physical and functional barrier to prevent invasions of allergens, pathogens, and air pollutants such as PM into the human body. So essentially, the skin itself is taking a lot of the brunt of these pollutants such as PM2.5 – causing damage, and also over time weakening the barrier which helps prevent these particles getting into the bloodstream.
4. PM2.5 particles can follow you inside
Some of the advice related to PM2.5 pollution is to stay inside when levels are particularly high. This, of course, does help matters because levels will always be lower indoors. But that isn’t to say you’ll be able to escape PM2.5 pollution completely by staying in your house; the particles, being as small as they are, will make their way inside too. And there is also PM2.5 pollution that is caused by indoor activity such as burning candles – just something to be aware of if this is something which concerns you.
5. Low wind levels have an impact
When it comes to PM2.5 pollution levels, stagnant air causes them to increase – so, for example, when there are low levels of wind and the air is not getting mixed about as much as it otherwise might be. Particles are not being carried away by the wind, causing them to hang about and damage the air quality.
6. There are many causes of PM2.5 pollution
As part of our 13 scary truths about PM2.5 pollution, let’s have a look at some of the causes of the issue. It is said that man made sources are more important to consider, because natural sources of PM2.5 particulates make up such a small amount of the overall issue. Some causes include:
- Road vehicles
- Chemical reactions caused by industrial work
- Biomass burning
- Coal combustion
There are other causes, of course, on a much smaller scale – but these are some of the main contributors to our levels of PM2.5 pollution.
7. Levels are higher in urban areas
It probably goes without saying, but PM2.5 pollution levels are higher in urban areas than they are in more rural areas. This is due to the high concentration of cars, vans and other road vehicles in towns and cities. It tends to be at its highest near busy roads, and this is often where poorer communities live. We can use this as an example or reason why poor people tend to live shorter lives, because they are (by way of where they live) being exposed to more of these harmful particles and it is causing illness.
8. PM2.5 is monitored hourly in some places
Due to the harmful nature of PM2.5 pollution, some places have taken to monitoring it VERY regularly – in New England, for example, data is generated in real time. They use a network of 27 ‘continuous ambient air quality monitors’ and the data is collected on an hourly basis. It is then available for the public to read via the Air Quality Index website meaning residents and visitors can check the current quality of the air and any associated health risks.
This goes to show how serious PM2.5 pollution is, because people are so keen to know the levels without necessarily having to wait for an annual report. People in New England can check and make educated decisions regarding their daily activities based on air quality, if this is something they are worried about – especially people with existing heart and lung conditions or asthma, for example.
9. Some people are more at risk than others
As you might imagine, one of our 13 scary truths about PM2.5 pollution is that certain demographics of society are more at risk to the dangers than other people are. Babies and children, the elderly, and those who already suffer from heart or lung conditions are more vulnerable in terms of the damages of PM2.5 particles.
If we cast our minds back to Covid-19 lockdowns, certain categories of people were asked or recommended to ‘shield’ by their government or health department; this is because they were more at risk of contracting the illness and less able to overcome it if they did get sick. It’s a similar situation with PM2.5 pollution; certain people are more likely to get ill from exposure than others.
10. PM2.5 particles are over 130 times smaller than a grain of salt
Your average grain of table salt is 330 microns (and a micron is one millionth of a metre) whereas PM2.5 pollution particles are only 2.5 microns, as the name succests. You can understand, then, just how tiny they are. One grain of table salt is small enough as it is, and these harmful particles are 130 times smaller than that. It’s no wonder they’re able to sneak their way into our bodies and bloodstreams, causing untold amounts of damage without us being able to stop them.
11. Air pollution kills millions every year
It’s not *just* PM2.5 pollution, but general air pollution kills an estimated 7 million people across the globe per year according to WHO data. And of course, being one of the most harmful factors of air pollution, PM2.5 particles are to blame for a lot of that. This is one of the worst of our 13 scary truths about PM2.5 pollution, because when you see the number laid out like that it can be very unsettling
12. In some countries, levels are getting worse every year
Luckily, some countries are seeing a gradual decrease in PM2.5 levels each year – the UK is one of those. But unfortunately this is not the case worldwide. Many countries are seeing an increase in how bad PM2.5 pollution is, and therefore an increase in related deaths. According to the Molekule Blog, Asian countries, in particular, have suffered severely from PM 2.5 associated pollution. From 1990 to 2010, the estimated PM 2.5-mortalities in East and South Asia “increased by 21% and 85% respectively.”
It is said that this huge increase is likely due to the growth in population as well as migration, which has been spurred by economic forces, and because there are fewer air pollution controls in place in this part of the world. Controls that are in place are not enforced particularly well, either.
“India has been especially affected. The Financial Times collated NASA satellite data pertaining to PM 2.5 and found that “more than 4 in 10 Indians are exposed to 5 times the safe limit of particulate matter in the air they breathe.
Delhi, in particular, has become notorious for its crop-burning season in November, when “hazy skies are a common occurrence” and winds spread a “river of smoke across much of the Indo-Gangetic Plain.” The resulting haze has “pushed levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) to hazardous levels in Delhi, according to data collected at the U.S. Embassy.”
13. PM2.5 reduces visibility
When there are high levels of PM2.5 pollution, visibility is reduced and you will notice that the air appears somewhat hazy. Even though the particles are so small, when there are a lot of them in the air in one area at any one time you can actually see a difference in how the air looks.
Generally this isn’t too dangerous in itself, as it doesn’t reduce visibility enough to cause road traffic accidents (for example) but it does show how much of this pollution there is! Being able to literally see pollution in the air serves as a reminder of how dangerous it actually is – it’s impossible to forget the poor air quality when it’s laid out in front of you in this way.
Important facts about PM2.5 pollution
Now that we know a bit more about PM2.5 pollution and why it is so serious. Lets recap the key facts that we should all be aware of.
- PM2.5 refers to particulate matter with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers or less. These particles are small enough to be inhaled deeply into the lungs and can cause serious health problems.
- PM2.5 pollution is a major contributor to air pollution in many cities and is caused by a variety of sources, including industrial activity, transportation, and burning fossil fuels.
- PM2.5 pollution is a complex mixture of many different particles, including sulfates, nitrates, organic chemicals, metals, and dust.
- Exposure to PM2.5 pollution can cause a range of health problems, including respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, lung cancer, and stroke.
- Children, the elderly, and people with preexisting health conditions are particularly vulnerable to the health effects of PM2.5 pollution.
- The World Health Organization (WHO) has set guidelines for PM2.5 levels, recommending that levels should not exceed an annual mean concentration of 10 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3) and a daily mean concentration of 25 µg/m3.
- Many countries have established air quality standards for PM2.5 pollution, but these standards vary widely and are often not enforced.
- PM2.5 pollution can travel long distances and is not confined to urban areas. It can also contribute to regional and global environmental problems, such as climate change.
- Measures to reduce PM2.5 pollution include reducing emissions from industrial sources, promoting public transportation and alternative modes of transportation, and encouraging the use of clean energy sources.
- Monitoring and reporting of PM2.5 levels is important for public health and policy decision-making, and can be done through air quality monitoring networks, satellite observations, and citizen science initiatives.
PM2.5 pollution- FAQS
People are asking lots of questions about PM2.5, and rightly so! Here are some of the most commonly asked questions.
What are the sources of PM2.5 pollution?
PM2.5 pollution can come from a variety of sources, including industrial activity, transportation, power generation, wildfires, and agricultural burning. Natural sources such as dust and sea spray can also contribute to PM2.5 levels.
What are the health effects of PM2.5 pollution?
Exposure to PM2.5 pollution has been linked to a range of health problems, including respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, lung cancer, and stroke. Children, the elderly, and people with preexisting health conditions are particularly vulnerable to the health effects of PM2.5 pollution.
How can I protect myself from PM2.5 pollution?
You can protect yourself from PM2.5 pollution by avoiding outdoor activities on days when PM2.5 levels are high, using air purifiers with HEPA filters, and wearing masks that are designed to filter out PM2.5 particles.
What are the current PM2.5 levels in my area?
PM2.5 levels can vary widely depending on location, time of day, and weather conditions. You can check current PM2.5 levels in your area by visiting local air quality monitoring websites or using mobile apps that track air quality.
What can be done to reduce PM2.5 pollution?
Measures to reduce PM2.5 pollution include reducing emissions from industrial sources, promoting public transportation and alternative modes of transportation, and encouraging the use of clean energy sources. Governments can also establish and enforce air quality standards to limit PM2.5 levels. Individuals can also help by reducing their own emissions through actions such as using public transportation, driving less, and using energy-efficient appliances.
PM2.5 pollution- To conclude
If you found this article containing 13 scary truths about PM2.5 pollution, then you might find the below articles interesting too – sustainability and being eco-friendly are really important factors when it comes to travel and tourism in 2023, and we can all do our bit to ensure the planet remains safe and beautiful for future generations to explore…