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The dangers of particulate matter

Do you know the feeling that it looks like there is more oxygen in the air on a rainy day? That has to do with the fact that rain brings all the particulate matter to the ground, which means less fine dust is left in the air. That means that heaps of particulate matter are usually present in the air.

Particulate matter is so little that you cannot see it with the naked eye. However, particulate matter is harmful. People with, for example, lung problems are overly sensitive to this. In this article, we explain precisely what fine dust is, what its cause is, and more!

What is particulate matter?

Particulate matter is a general term for dreadfully small particles that float in the air. It is a type of air pollution. Artificial particles, such as grime, are the most common. During the combustion of fossil fuel in power plants and fireplaces are, for example, soot particles released. The cooking of food causes fine dust as well. About 75% of the total particulate matter production is artificial. On top of that, nature undeniably produces particulate matter itself as well. For example, sea salt and Sahara sand fall under particulate matter.

Dust particles are smaller than 10 micrometres (converted 0,0001 centimetres), as shown in the picture. A usual manner for the marking of fine dust is PM followed by a number, PM10, for example. PM stands for particulate matter. PM10 means that the dust particles are smaller than 10 micrometres, PM2,5 are smaller than 2,5 micrometres, and PM1 means that the particulate matter is smaller than 1 micrometre.

With our filters that have an ISO16890 classification, you will see that there is, for example, PM10 70% listed as the filter class. That indicates that 70% filter particulate matter smaller than 10 micrometres with this specific filter.

What are the causative agents of particulate matter?

In the Netherlands, the concentration of particulate matter is the highest in Randstad and North-Brabant. The Randstad has a high concentration of particulate matter because it is densely populated and because of Schiphol. In North-Brabant, it is because of the heavy industry and intensive farming amongst other things too.

In addition, vehicles cause an enormous amount of particulate matter with their emission. Due to the stricter diesel requirements of the particulate filter, the emission decreased because of trucks and diesel cars in the last couple of years. On the other hand, the volume of traffic has increased. The speed reduction from 120/130 to 100 kilometres per hour ensures there is less fine dust production.

Previously mentioned causative agents are more noticeable. However, the consumer causes a lot of particulate matter as well. Think about paint, cleaning products, and ink for the printer.

Lastly, particulate matter is caused by nature as well. In the Netherlands, this is particularly sea salt. When the seawater evaporates, the sea salt stays behind. Sometimes, Sahara sand blows to the Netherlands as well.

Did you know that tyre wear and the road surface cause fine dust too?

What are the dangers of particulate matter?

The higher the concentration of particulate matter is, the bigger the danger. Particulate matter causes cardiovascular diseases, respiratory diseases, increasing risk of infarcts (heart, brain, and lungs), and it interferes with the development of young children. In Europe, about 350.000 people die due to particulate matter per year.

The picture shows how far fine dust penetrates the body. It seems that the little dust particles penetrate the lungs.

According to doctors in the Netherlands, particulate matter shortens life by 13 months.

Is all particulate matter dangerous?

The answer is no. Not all particulate matter is dangerous. The bigger dust particles from 5 to 10 micrometres do not go further than the nose or throat. Coughing or sneezing once ensures that the dust quickly leaves the body. However, dust particles smaller than 1 micrometres are dangerous since they reach the lungs. Ultrafine particles can even get into the bloodstream.

In Europe, about 350.000 people die because of particulate matter per year.

How is particulate matter measured?

Measurement stations are scattered throughout the Netherlands. These measurement stations continually measure the air quality. If it turns out the air quality is so bad in some places, the RIVM can issue a warning for lung patients. Advice is to stay inside during the day until earlier in the evening, to avoid symptoms. When a warning is issued, it is also inadvisable for “healthy” people to exert themselves heavily outdoors. It is safer in the morning or later in the evening since less particulate matter is present in the air.

What are the standards of particulate matter?

Because particulate matter can be a health risk, the European Union has set limit values. In this way, countries must ensure that the number of particulate matter is limited. That implies no more than 40 micrograms of particulate matter per cubic meter are allowed in the air, measured in a year.

The Netherlands falls underneath this value in most cases, which is a good sign. However, in some places in the Netherlands, it is above the set limit values. For example, in the harbour area of Amsterdam and the Maasvlakte. Spaces with heaps of industry or livestock farms do not always attain the limit values.

Besides the general limit values, there are other standards for a whole year too. The EU standard for dust particles of 10 micrometres is 40 micrograms of fine dust in the air per cubic meter. The World Health Organisation (WHO) advises 20 micrograms per cubic meter. For the smaller particles, the EU set a limit value of 25 micrograms per cubic meter and the WHO an advice standard of 10 micrograms per cubic meter.

Written by Elmo
Marketing Manager at TOPS Luchtfilters

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