Microscopic solid or liquid matter suspended in the Earth's atmosphere / From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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Particulates or atmospheric particulate matter (see below for other names) are microscopic particles of solid or liquid matter suspended in the air. The term aerosol commonly refers to the particulate/air mixture, as opposed to the particulate matter alone.[1] Sources of particulate matter can be natural or anthropogenic.[2] They have impacts on climate and precipitation that adversely affect human health, in ways additional to direct inhalation.

A computer graphic showing how many PM10 particles can be wrapped around a human hair and how several PM2.5 particles can be wrapped around PM10
PM2.5 and PM10 compared with a human hair in a graphic from the Environmental Protection Agency

Types of atmospheric particles include suspended particulate matter; thoracic and respirable particles;[3] inhalable coarse particles, designated PM10, which are coarse particles with a diameter of 10 micrometers (μm) or less; fine particles, designated PM2.5, with a diameter of 2.5 μm or less;[4] ultrafine particles, with a diameter of 100 nm or less; and soot.

The IARC and WHO designate airborne particulates as a Group 1 carcinogen.[5] Particulates are the most harmful form (other than ultra-fines) of air pollution[6] due to their ability to penetrate deep into the lungs and brain from blood streams, causing health problems such as heart disease, lung disease, and premature death.[7] In 2013, a study involving 312,944 people in nine European countries revealed that there was no safe level of particulates and that “particulate matter air pollution contributes to lung cancer incidence in Europe”.[8] Worldwide, exposure to PM2.5 contributed to 4.1 million deaths from heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, chronic lung disease, and respiratory infections in 2016.[9] Overall, ambient particulate matter is one of the leading risk factor for premature death globally.[10]

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