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What is Particulate Matter?

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Fine particulate air pollution, causes about 3% of mortality from cardiopulmonary disease, about 5% of mortality from cancer of the trachea, bronchus, and lung, and about 1% of mortality from acute respiratory infections in children under 5 years, worldwide.
- World Health Organization, 2005
Particulate matter is a soup of microscopic particles suspended in the air that includes sea salt, dust, cement dust, fly ash, oil smoke, smog, tobacco smoke and soot. It occurs as a result of natural processes such as volcanoes, forest fires and sea spray. Human processes such as burning fossil fuels and factory emissions also create significant amounts of particulate matter.

Health Impact

Particulate matter has a variety of impacts on human health and was estimated to cause 3.22 million deaths globally in 2010 as reported in the global burden of disease collaboration1. The health effects of particulate matter can be highly localized. For example, exposure to traffic exhaust causes around 7.4% of heart attacks according to one 2011 study2. The amount of particular matter in the air differ widely from one area to the next based on factors such as national and local environmental regulations.
Overview: Particulate Matter
Type
Definition
A soup of microscopic particles suspended in the air due to both natural processes such as volcanoes and human processes such as burning fossil fuels.
Also Known As
Atmospheric particulate matter
Particulates
PM
PM2.5
PM10
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References

(1)A comparative risk assessment of burden of disease and injury attributable to 67 risk factors and risk factor clusters in 21 regions, 1990–2010: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010.
(2) Nawrot, Tim S; Laura Perez; Nino Künzli; Elke Munters; Benoit Nemery, 2011. "Public health importance of triggers of myocardial infarction: a comparative risk assessment"