What is PM10?

PM10 stands for Particulate Matter less than 10 micrometers and is a measure of how many particles are in the air that are 10 micrometers or smaller in diameter. PM10 is measured in micrograms (µg) per cubic meter of air (m3). Essentially, PM10 is how much mass of small particles are in a given quantity of air. 10 micrometers is very small – less than 1/4th the width of a human hair! PM10 is often responsible for haze and smog.

Where does PM10 come from?

PM10 is most commonly produced by human activity. These small particles can be produced by all types of combustion including motor vehicles, smoking, wood burning, power plants as well as certain industrial processes. Outdoors, motor vehicles are the most significant source of PM10 in most of the US. Indoors, smoking, cooking, fire places, candles, oil lamps and fuel-burning space heaters are common sources of PM10.

What are the health effects of PM10?

PM10 is hazardous due to its small size and ability to penetrate deeply into the lungs. PM10 is small enough that our bodies cannot filter out the particles effectively. Larger particles are generally filtered out in the nose and throat (via cilia and mucus) before they reach the lungs. However, PM10 is sufficiently small enough that it can bypass our body’s defense mechanisms and get into our lungs. PM2.5 can slide past the sticky mucus layer that protects our lungs, and reach our lungs. The larger PM10 particles penetrate less deeply than the smaller particles, but all are dangerous.

In the short-term, high PM10 exposure can cause sneezing, coughing, a runny nose and shortness of breath, as well as irritation to the eyes, nose, throat and lungs. PM10 exposure can also exacerbate certain medical conditions including asthma and heart disease. In the long-term, PM10 exposure is associated with increased risk of mortality from lung cancer and heart disease. PM10 exposure is also associated with increased rates of chronic bronchitis and reduce lung function.

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