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What Is Particulate Matter and Why Should I Be Concerned?

When talking about air quality, a term that has and continues to gain popularity is Particulate Matter. Particulate matter is sometime referred to as PM2.5 or fine particulate matter. To get a sense of why it is concerning, lets first define what it is.

Particulate matter refers to fine particles in the air that are 2.5 microns or less in width, hence PM2.5. To give you a sense of how big, or in this case how small that is, there are about 25,000 microns in an inch. Their small size also allows them to hover in the air for long periods of time and travel long distances outside. So we know they are really small, why is that a big deal?

Because of their small size these partials are able to travel deep into our respiratory track, reaching the lungs. This makes them especially dangerous. Here is where it gets scary. There can be short term and long-term effects to exposure. Short term we can experience things like itchy or irritated eyes, nose irritation (sneezing or running), coughing or even shortness of breath. Longer effects can include increased chances of chronic bronchitis, reduced lung function as well as other lung related health issues. For people with underlying health issues such as asthma, exposure to particulate matter can be especially bad.

So where does particulate matter come from? Unfortunately there are many sources for PM2.5 both indoors and outdoors. The main source is from items that burn fuel such as cars, trucks, construction equipment or from burning wood, leaves, coal, heating oil and in some parts of the country forest fires. Indoors, the kitchen is going to be the main source of PM2.5 and is released during the cooking process, especially if using a gas cooktop. Other sources inside the home can be burning candles, oil lamps, fireplaces and fuel burning space heaters (time to get rid of that kerosene heater – Lasko has a full line of safe ceramic electric heaters).

We need to take a minute for a public health announcement. Smoking and vaping are the quickest ways to infuse particulate matter into your body. Both methods contain PM2.5 and the process delivers it directly into your lungs.

Hopefully you are not so depressed that you stopped reading. There is hope. Eliminating PM2.5 from the outdoors is going to be almost impossible. What you can do is make informed decisions. Many states post the daily air quality and will send out warnings for elevated levels. If it is a bad air quality day, you might want to postpone that hike, run or anything else that will cause you to breath heavily that day. For those who are around forest fire smoke, staying indoors in a filtered air environment will help.

Indoors is where you can really make a significant impact. First, identify what could be producing PM2.5. The first stop should be the kitchen. This is where it is critical that you are utilizing a properly sized range hood that vents to the outside every time you cook. We have written a lot of blogs regarding the usage of range hoods and encourage you to read through them for more information.

Second, have a constant flow of air coming in and exhausting out of the home. Utilizing a fresh air intake that also filters the air coming in along with exhaust fans removing all the “bad” air inside your home will reduce contaminates inside the home. Air King has developed a Total Home Ventilation system to improve the indoor air quality of the home. You can read more about it on our Total Home Ventilation page or watch a video on how it works on the Air King YouTube channel.

Third, think about items that are releasing PM2.5 into the air that you along with your family are breathing. Items such as smoking inside, burning candles (yes we know this is a tough one especially with pumpkin spice candles in the fall), and even some air fresheners.

Eliminating PM2.5 is not attainable, but limiting exposure to it and creating better indoor air quality is. The goal is to reduce by utilizing some common sense and easy solutions. To learn more about ventilation solutions visit the range hood, exhaust fan and fresh air sections of this site.

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