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What Makes Particulate Matter So Harmful?

A term that has gained popularity lately is particulate matter or as it is sometimes known – PM2.5. So what is PM2.5? They are tiny particles or droplets in the air that are 2.5 microns or less in width. To give that perspective there are about 25,000 microns in an inch. Okay, so we know they are small but how does that affect my health?

Particles that small are able to travel deep into the respiratory tract and end up in the lungs. Our noses are able to trap particles in the 10 micron range. Since PM2.5 are a quarter that size or smaller, they are able to bypass our first line of defense and travel to the lungs. You don’t need to be a doctor to realize that particles getting trapped in our lungs does not sound like a good thing. It’s not. There are short-term health effects such as eye, nose and throat irritation, coughing, sneezing and runny nose. A more serious effect can be shortness of breath. Long-term effects can be even more serious and include lung and heart issues.

So now that we have you completely paranoid about particulate matter let’s take a closer look at where it comes from and how we can lessen exposure. PM2.5 is all around us so completely eliminating it is basically impossible. Main outdoor producers are items that use combustion (burning of fuel) like cars, trucks, construction equipment as well as fires. Unfortunately there are also indoor items that also produce PM2.5. Main culprits are cooking, fireplaces, smoking (as well as second hand smoke) and burning candles. This is why lung cancer is directly linked to smoking as all the particulate matter generated during smoking goes directly into the lungs. While a single particle is way too small to see, we are able to identify concentrations as well as situations that are producing them. Outdoors when the air is hazy and visibility is decreased it could be because of an increase in PM2.5. Urban settings are going to see this more in times of heavy traffic and especially if there isn’t any wind to dilute the build-up of particles. In rural settings heavy pollen counts can cause a similar situation. Increases in wildfires are also a heavy contributor. Fires are especially concerning as wind can blow the smoke hundreds of miles away from the source, affecting a much larger area. Inside it is a little harder to identify. If your kitchen is filled with smoke from burning dinner – yes that is all particulate matter and is fairly easy to identify. The challenge is that during normal cooking you might not be able to identify how much PM2.5 you are producing.

Okay, enough with all the bad stuff. How do we combat particulate matter? As we mentioned PM2.5 is all around us so we need to look for ways to reduce it as best we can. We have been talking about two categories throughout this post – outdoor and indoor. Outdoor is a little harder to control and we need to take a more knowledge-based approach. Most states have a resource that informs the residents of the fine particle levels on a given day. Checking that before going outside can help. If you are in a high level area, avoid things like exercise or anything that will increase your air intake. Maybe postpone that hike until the levels drop. In urban setting, look to schedule outdoor activities on lesser traffic days or times. For instance if you like to run in the city, do it during lower traffic times where you won’t be breathing in as much of the contaminates coming from car exhaust. Same would hold true if you are in an areas that has stagnant air in the morning but then gets afternoon breezes that will carry away or at least dilute a lot of the contaminates.

Indoors is where you have a lot more control. The simple thing to do is stop PM2.5 from being produced. Unfortunately that is a lot easier said than done. We still need to cook and use things like clothes dryers. Eliminating smoking inside (doesn’t help the smoker but will benefit everyone else), stop burning candles, cook less fried foods are all good things. For the rest of the particles the key is to remove or dilute them. The easiest way is to exhaust them out of the house. The biggest contributor to PM2.5 in the home is the cooktop. Having a properly functioning and sized range hood that exhausts to the outside is your best defense. Some range hoods just recirculate the air back into the kitchen and are not effective at removing the particles. Over the counter microwaves, while convenient, do not do a great job of removing particles. Exhaust fans are generally installed in a bathroom, which is great, but they can and should be used in other areas of the home like laundry rooms. With all the exhaust going out, you also need a solution for the air coming in the home. As we discussed earlier, the outdoor air might not be any better than the air going out. Having a fresh are solution that can also filter the air – removing the PM2.5 is critical.

Air King offers solution for all your exhaust and air intake needs. Air King range hoods are perfect for almost all residential kitchens while a full array of exhaust fans offer solutions for any room of the home. Air King fresh air intake solutions offer controlled and filtered air to replace the exhausted air and filter out almost all of the PM2.5 that would come in from the outside (when using a MERV11 or MERV16 filter).

For information about fresh air or ventilation solutions utilize the links at the top of this page.

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