Health Effects

Effects of Particulate Matter on Our Health

 

The size of particles is directly linked to their potential for causing health problems. Small particles less than10 micrometers in diameter pose the greatest problems, because they can get deep into your lungs, and some may even get into your bloodstream.

 

Exposure to such particles can affect both your lungs and your heart. Small particles of concern include "inhalable coarse particles" (such as those found near roadways and dusty industries), which are larger than 2.5 micrometers and smaller than 10 micrometers in diameter; and "fine particles" (such as those found in smoke and haze), which are 2.5 micrometers in diameter and smaller.

 

The Clean Air Act requires EPA to set air quality standards to protect both public health and the public welfare (e.g. crops and vegetation). Particle pollution affects both.

Particle pollution - especially fine particles - contains microscopic solids or liquid droplets that are so small that they can get deep into the lungs and cause serious health problems. Numerous scientific studies have linked particle pollution exposure to a variety of problems, including:

  • increased respiratory symptoms, such as irritation of the airways, coughing, or difficulty breathing, for example;
  • decreased lung function;
  • aggravated asthma;
  • development of chronic bronchitis;
  • irregular heartbeat;
  • nonfatal heart attacks; and
  • premature death in people with heart or lung disease.

People with heart or lung diseases, children and older adults are the most likely to be affected by particle pollution exposure. However, even if you are healthy, you may experience temporary symptoms from exposure to elevated levels of particle pollution. For more information about asthma, visit www.epa.gov/asthma.

Learn more at http://www.epa.gov/air/particlepollution/health.html.

Health and Environmental Impacts of SO2

SO2 causes a wide variety of health and environmental impacts because of the way it reacts with other substances in the air.  Particularly sensitive groups include people with asthma who are active outdoors and children, the elderly, and people with heart or lung disease.

Respiratory Effects from Gaseous SO2 - Peak levels of SO2 in the air can cause temporary breathing difficulty for people with asthma who are active outdoors.  Longer-term exposures to high levels of SO2 gas and particles cause respiratory illness and aggravate existing heart disease.

Respiratory Effects from Sulfate Particles - SO2 reacts with other chemicals in the air to form tiny sulfate particles.  When these are breathed, they gather in the lungs and are associated with increased respiratory symptoms and disease, difficulty in breathing, and premature death.

Visibility Impairment - Haze occurs when light is scattered or absorbed by particles and gases in the air.  Sulfate particles are the major cause of reduced visibility in many parts of the U.S., including our national parks.

Acid Rain - SO2 and nitrogen oxides react with other substances in the air to form acids, which fall to earth as rain, fog, snow, or dry particles.  Some may be carried by the wind for hundreds of miles.

Plant and Water Damage - Acid rain damages forests and crops, changes the makeup of soil, and makes lakes and streams acidic and unsuitable for fish.  Continued exposure over a long time changes the natural variety of plants and animals in an ecosystem.