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Indoor Air Quality- What is Particulate Matter (PM) And Why It Matters?

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Dynamic Inspections LLC is your premier provider of unbiased professional environmental and building inspections. Our motto is” Inspect, Inform, and Educate” this portion is part of our education series. We arm our clients with the resources to make informed educated decisions, because truthfully who wants to be told what to do without the data or information to back it up, but don’t worry because we provide comprehensive narrative results with explanations of what the data means! So here we will learn about Particulate Matter, what it is, and how it affects us in our everyday lives.

What is Particulate Matter?

Particulate matter or PM are the contaminants that we do not see, it is a mixture of liquid and solid particles that are aerosolized or airborne. It is one of the six criteria for air pollutants as per the US EPA. Why it matters is because a majority of PMs are microscopic but present in our homes and workplaces.

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They are the reason we experience coughs, tickles in our throat, red eyes, itchy skin or scalp, and sometimes even more severe symptoms when there is no explanation. Though with continual long-term or chronic exposure, these contaminants build up in our systems, but that is not to say that short-term immediate or acute exposure doesn’t affect us, it depends on many different environmental and biological factors.

Some examples of what we test for in our Total Particulate Analysis (TPA), are mold spores, smoke, pollen, soot, synthetic and natural fibers, plant animal and human hair, dust mite parts, insect parts, and frass, carpet beetle larvae and more; we also run PM10 and PM2.5 specific analysis. Particulate matter is a general term for all suspended particles despite their molecular structure. PM is categorized by size by scientists and researchers since it’s the size that stimulates different physiological reactions.

PM10 and PM2.5- What’s the difference?

There are two main subcategories of particulate matter- PM2.5 and PM10. First and foremost, what is PM2.5 compared to PM10? Particulate matter is defined by the aerodynamic size of the particle, this reference is based on its diameter. So PM2.5’s are particles that are less than 2.5 µm or microns which are fine dust or particles and PM10’s are particles that are less than 10 µm which is coarse dust or matter. The importance of this is that it is of aerodynamic nature due to its specific size that correlates with health effects and how we react to them.

Where Does Particulate Matter Come From?

Typically, we believe that air pollution is isolated to factories, plants, industrial compounds, and everywhere else other than within our homes. While these places are sources of air pollution on a local, national, and worldwide level, they are also present in our homes and places of employment. So where do they come from? Particulate matter comes from primary and secondary sources.

Primary Sources of PM- This is when there is a direct emission of particles into the atmosphere. Such as construction activities, mining, paving, control forest burning, unpaved road dust, vehicle emissions, natural dust, and wildfires (like we just experienced here in the Northeast). These are what we typically think of regarding air pollution, but rarely do we think of those contaminants that get trapped inside our homes. Standard primary indoor sources of particle matter are mold and fungi, pet and human dander, wood-burning stoves and fireplaces, candles, and incense, burning natural gas (stoves, ovens, boilers, furnaces, hot water heaters, etc.), dust mites, insects, dust, interior and exterior home repair projects and more.

Secondary Sources of PM- These are formed by other contaminates like chemical reactions of gases, for example, VOCS, SVOCS, sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, off-gassing of other materials, and reintroduction of larger primary sources of PM’s after they are broken down. Don’t be offended, a common one that apparently most people love is that “new car smell” Yes those are toxins!

Health effects of Particulate Matter.

As we all know size matters and how our bodies respond to the specific size varies. It is a major health concern because all in all, they are pollutants with negative health implications. The greater of the two is PM2.5 because they are smaller, respirable, and can even penetrate your bloodstream and make their way to other organs; they are often researched separately from PM10 due to their higher adverse effects even though on a basic level they still fall under the PM10 category. Due to the characteristics of PM10’s, they are restricted and the deepest they will go is adsorption in the upper respiratory tract and do not make it further nor permeate into the bloodstream due to their size. It is important to note that many of the illnesses associated with particulate matter are due to chronic or long-term exposure or high levels of acute exposure.

The effects of PM10: irritation of the nose and throat that can trigger allergic reactions. If they make it into the lungs, it irritates the lung tissue and can trigger asthma attacks. Long-term exposure can lead to stroke, high blood pressure, heart attack, increased risk of lung cancer, reduced lung development, bronchitis, and premature mortality.

The effects of PM2.5: they have the same capability of entering your lungs but also can enter into the bloodstream and make their way to the brain and heart causing further symptoms and conditions like respiratory disease, immunodeficiencies, congenital disabilities, diabetes, and reduction of white brain matter.

What’s Important.

The important part of all of this is to realize that if you are not in the industry you do not realize there are many contaminants that we do not think of or associate as being problems within our own homes. We believe that our homes and work conditions are safe, clean, and sanitary; that the dangers that lurk are not contained within our own built-in environment. A lot of this comes from misinformation, the things that we were told and taught. At Dynamic Inspections LLC we make it a point to share our experience, education, and knowledge because we believe that everyone should live and work in a safe, healthy atmosphere.


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