How particulate matter affects our health: Top tips for prevention at home

 

Particulate matter is a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets found in the air. Particulate matter comes from natural sources such as sea spray, dust and pollen, also from human-made sources such as cooking, unfiltered vacuum cleaners, soot from vehicle exhausts and smoke from fires. Above all, the small particles are the most hazardous to our health as they can get deep into our lungs, heart, brain and our bloodstream.

Particulate matter includes PM10 and PM2.5 both are inhalable. PM10 has a diameter of 10 micrometres while PM2.5 have diameters of 2.5 micrometres. In contrast, a single human hair is around 70 micrometres in diameter, making the hair 30 times bigger than the largest fine particle.

Particulate Matter Exposure

DEFRAs Clean Air Strategy reports that exposure to particulate matter can lead to a variety of health effects. For example, short-term exposure which would be a few hours to a day can irritate the eyes, nose and throat and chest tightness. Furthermore, long-term exposure to particulate matter can cause Irregular heartbeat and aggravate asthma. Therefore, people with heart or lung diseases, children, and older adults are the most likely to be affected by particle pollution exposure.

The levels of particulate matter are sometimes higher indoors than outdoors, especially when outdoor particle levels are high. The rise in popularity of the wood-burning stove has contributed massively to the amount of particulate matter both inside and outside our homes. You can reduce particle levels in your home by reducing your use of wood-burning stoves and fireplaces, and not burning candles or smoking inside.

Burning of wood and coal by households in stoves and open fires is a large contributor to emissions of particulate matter both in the UK and across Europe. (DEFRA)

How exposure to particulate matter can affect your health

People with heart or lung diseases, children, and older adults are the most likely to be affected by particle pollution exposure.

Short-term exposure of particulate matter

  • Possibly aggravate lung disease which can cause asthma attacks.
  • May increase susceptibility to respiratory infections.
  • Heart attacks and arrhythmias in people with heart disease.
  • Irritation of the eyes, nose and throat
  • Coughing
  • Phlegm
  • Chest Tightness
  • Difficulty breathing

There are no reports that healthy children and adults have suffered serious effects from short-term exposure to particulate matter.

Long-term exposure of particulate matter

  • Premature death in people with heart or lung disease
  • Nonfatal heart attacks
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Aggravated Asthma
  • Decreased lung function
  • Chronic bronchitis
Top causes of particulate matter
  • 38% of PM emissions come from burning wood and coal in domestic open fires and solid fuel stoves
  • 12% of PM emissions come from road transport (Fuel-related emissions tyre and brake wear)
  • 13% of PM emissions come from solvent use and industrial processes (Steelmaking, Brick making, Quarries, Construction)
Top Tips
  • Eliminate or reduce your use of wood-burning stoves, if you do use them choose solid fuels that have lower PM emissions such as dry wood.
  • Eliminate or reduce your use of candles.
  • Do not smoke inside.