W hile we all concentrate on protecting ourselves of dust, pollen, pet hair and dander, an even bigger threat floats freely into the air and can easily get inside our system. The smoke produced by wildfires, the smoke from tobacco, or the smog clouds we see descending among us more often every day, they are the true problem we should be concerned with, as they are formed of a special kind of particles or droplets called PM 2.5, which have been proven to cause not only respiratory illnesses but cardio-vascular diseases and even death.
In this article, we will define PM 2.5 and analyze the sources and the impact the spreading of these pollutants can have on human health. We will try to identify the groups that are the most exposed and propose some means to remove them at home. So, keep reading to find out how you can protect yourself and your family, as this problem is on raising path and will probably aggravate in the future.
What Are PM2.5?
PM2.5 or particulate matter are tiny particles with a size equal or smaller than 2.5 micrometers. To better understand how fine they are, we will compare them with the size of dust or sand particles, which measure around 10 micrometers. The last category is easily filtered by a HEPA filter and, even outdoors, these particles rarely manage to get through the fine hairs in the nose, which acts as a filter. But PM2.5 particles, which can be found in smog or smoke, can be easily inhaled. And the problem doesn’t stop here, as their size allows them to transgress tissues and enter the bloodstream. In fact, recent studies have shown that they can cause heart attacks and affect the human organism in multiple ways.
The truth is that particle matter wasn’t a real problem until recently when their sources became more common and stronger. Before intense industrialization, no one spoke about the smog in Beijing, and the only occasion when these particles were released was when a volcano erupted. Nevertheless, the sources today are more diverse and they include:
- Forest fires – The smoke contains, along with ashes, multiple dangerous substances that result in the process, and some of them are smaller than 2.5 microns
- Diesel engines – The emissions of this type of engine are responsible for a high level of pollution in the cities. This is why it is preconized that in the following 10 years they will be removed from the market
- Industry – The main sectors responsible for the production of PM2.5 are energy production and distribution, industrial processes, and road transportation
- Agricultural burning – A practice that is still used in many states, it implies the burning of vegetable waste, which results in a lot of harmful smoke
- Natural sources – Release only a small amount of ultrafines compared with human-made sources. They include volcanos, desert dust, and sea-salt aerosols
The Impact of Ultrafines on Human Health
The main reason for which so many studies have been dedicated to ultrafine particles is their contribution to the emergence and development of illnesses, which start with mild symptoms but can easily reach critical stages or even death. Just to see how serious this is, we will provide you with the following data:
- Up to 120,000 premature deaths are linked every year in the US with exposure to pollution
- Asthma sufferers need over 100,000 days of leave or work from home
- The costs of treating humans that have been exposed to air pollution can reach 50 billion dollars only in the US
Although all the population living in an area affected by pollution is exposed, even indoors, some age categories and specific groups will be more affected than others. Studies have shown that children, who spend more time outdoors and practice sports inhale more polluted air. This, combined with the incomplete development of their lungs, is what causes breathing problems and can lead to premature death.
Senior citizens are another segment of the population often affected by pollution, as their immune system doesn’t have the full capacity to fight the diseases anymore. Moreover, preexisting heart and lung conditions will only make them more vulnerable. People with allergies are more prone to develop the symptoms sooner and need to find a way to remove the pollutants, in order to keep on with their lives.
Health Problems that Can Emerge
Depending on the level of exposure, the frequency, and the duration, the effects can be milder or more severe. We will enumerate them starting from the less grave to the more advanced:
- Coughs and difficulties in breathing
- Difficulty in seeing and irritated eyes
- Chest tightness
- Irregular heart beat
- Development of permanent lung illnesses
- Aggravation of preexistent lung diseases
- Aggravation of existing heart problems
- Premature death caused by heart problems
How to Avoid Exposure?
- Stay indoors – If you live in a highly polluted area, it is better to reduce contact with the air outdoors as much as possible. If the situation is temporary, for example, a fire is sending smoke your way, keep the windows closed until the problem is solved.
- Purify the air – It is difficult to escape PM2.5 without the help of a good filtering system, but considering the devastating effects it can have on your health, you should probably invest in one
- Create a clean room – If you cannot place an air cleaner in every room, turn your bedroom into a safe space. Close all the doors and windows and ensure air purification. Thus, at least at night, you will be protected.
- Don’t smoke – This will only alter the quality of the air, making it even more difficult to breathe. Plus, smoking releases PM2.5, so you will be putting your family’s health and yours at risk.
How to Pick an Air Purifier for PM2.5 Removal
Before investing your money in a machine of this type, you should make sure it has the capacity to deal with the problem. Here is some advice:
- A HEPA filter in mandatory – The weaving of this type of filter is so dense that it can eliminate particles with a diameter of 0.3 and even 0.1 microns. Nevertheless, maintenance should be performed on time for it to preserve its efficiency.
- A carbon activated filter is recommended – The carbon layer should be thick and dense so it can absorb smoke and volatile compounds. Pay attention to cotton filters that contain only a bit of carbon on the surface. They are not the real deal.
- Check out CADR ratings – It is important to size the air purifier and in this direction, you should pay attention to the dimensions of the room it can cover. Take a look at the smoke, dust, and pollen CADR and asses if the unit is right for you.
- Avoid ozone generators – Although they can kill mold and even bacteria, they don’t act upon particles, so the ozone won’t have any effect against PM2.5.
These particles have a negative effect on the environment as well, as they usually are composed of harmful substances and can travel for long distances. The best we can do at the moment is to protect ourselves and try to limit our contribution to air pollution. For example, we can switch to an electric car or turn our homes eco by using solar energy. Action should be taken now, otherwise, we will end up with an ill planet that is no longer able to deliver enough supplies for us to live and with an ill population that requires more and more financial efforts to survive.