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Particulate Matter: How it effects the life of Americans

October 31st, 2016

Did you know you breath almost 150 gallons of air a day? If you’re unsure of the air’s cleanliness, that can be a frightening statistic. Numerous studies have shown that particulate matter in the air we breathe can be harmful to our health by causing cardiovascular and respiratory problems. As more and more Americans populate urban areas, the effects on individual health, and the pressure on the health care system, is becoming clear. We want you to understand how particulate matter affects you and how an online-tool will help check your local air pollution levels.

How does air pollution and particulate matter (PM) affect me?

It has been known for a long time that air pollution causes and exacerbates respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. [1] Individuals who are exposed to higher levels of air pollution are 3 times more likely to develop lung problems.[2] The societal costs associated with air pollution are more difficult to measure, however, recent studies estimate those costs between $40 and $131 billion per year, just for the US alone! [3,4]

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has identified 6 pollutants as “criteria” air pollutants. These six pollutants are carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen oxides, ground-level ozone, sulfur oxides, and particulate matter.[5]

Particulate matter is of special interest, as the inhalation of fine and ultra-fine dust particles leads to an increasing risk of cancer, independent of their chemical composition.[6] Moreover, people who inhale fine dust over a longer period of time havean increased risk of heart attack.[7]

Reducing particulate matter in the air is, therefore, important for the health and well-being of many Americans. A study found that reducing the concentration of PM2.5 particulate matter was associated with an increase in life expectancy of around 5 months and that the strongest association was found for urban areas.[8] This is especially important as 8% of Americans live in the 10 most populous cities, and almost 30% live in cities with a population greater than 100,000.[9]

So, what exactly is particulate matter?

The definition of particulate matter goes back to the “National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) introduced in 1987 by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).[10] According to this standard, PM10 is a category of particles whose aerodynamic diameter is less than 10 micrometers (10 microns). The term “particulate matter” represents the totality of tiny particles from different sources, such as erosion, sandstorms, volcanic ash, pollen, fungal spores, bacteria or viruses. Among the anthropogenic sources are power and district heating, transport, diesel exhaust, brake and tire wear and road dust. Not all particles are equally dangerous, but highly toxic soot particles are particularly critical. 


Size comparison of solid and gaseous substances in the ambient air.

Limits are permanently being exceeded

The EPA has set National Ambient Air Quality Standards for the six criteria pollutants. The level for PM2.5 particulate matter was set to a maximum of 12.0 μg/m³ to provide public health protection, including protecting the health of "sensitive" populations such as asthmatics, children, and the elderly.[11] Although this limit has been in effect since 2012, it is exceeded in many places around the United States.

Six criteria pollutants and levels set by the EPA in the National Ambient Air Quality Standard.[11]


Averaging Time



Carbon Monoxide (CO)

8 hours

9 ppm

Not to be exceeded more than once per year

Lead (Pb)

Rolling 3 month average

0.15 μg/m3

Not to be exceeded

Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2)

1 hour

100 ppb

98th percentile of 1-hour daily maximum concentrations, averaged over 3 years

Ozone (O3)

8 hours

0.070 ppm

Annual fourth-highest daily maximum 8-hour concentration, averaged over 3 years


1 year

12.0 μg/m3

98th percentile, averaged over 3 years


24 hours

150 μg/m3

Not to be exceeded more than once per year on average over 3 years

Sulfur Dioxide (SO2)

1 hour

75 ppb (4)



"The American Lung Association's 2016 "State of the Air" report found continued improvement in air quality, but more than half (52.1%) of the people in the United States live in counties that have unhealthy levels of either ozone or particle pollution. The annual national air quality "report card" found that 166 million Americans live with unhealthy levels of air pollution, putting them at risk for premature death and other serious health effects like lung cancer, asthma attacks, cardiovascular damage, and developmental and reproductive harm.”[12]

AirNow: How to check your local air pollution levels

The Air Quality Index (AQI) is published by the EPA and updates levels of pollution including the AQI for particulate matter (PM 2.5). The information is available at and includes colored maps that help people understand the level of air pollution in their area. Map and forecast data are collected using federal reference or equivalent monitoring techniques or techniques approved by the state, local or tribal monitoring agencies. [13]

The Air Quality Index uses a rating system of 0 to 500 and six classes ranging from good to hazardous. Any concentration of PM 2.5 particles higher than 12 µg/m³ is a health concern and has a cautionary statement.

AQI levels and classifications and the link to PM 2.5 concentrations. [14]


PM 2.5 concentration in the air (µg/m³)

Levels of Health Concern

Cautionary Statements

0 to 50




51 to 100

12 to <35


Unusually sensitive people should consider reducing prolonged or heavy exertion.

101 to 150

35 to <55

Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups

People with heart or lung disease, older adults, and children should reduce prolonged or heavy exertion.

151 to 200

55 to <150


People with heart or lung disease, older adults, and children should avoid prolonged or heavy exertion. Everyone else should reduce prolonged or heavy exertion.

201 to 300

150 to <250

Very unhealthy

People with heart or lung disease, older adults, and children should avoid all physical activity outdoors. Everyone else should avoid prolonged or heavy exertion.

301 to 500



People with heart or lung disease, older adults, and children should remain indoors and keep activity levels low. Everyone else should avoid all physical activity outdoors.

Air pollution: Mitigation and Filtration

Reducing air pollution at the source has received increased attention over the last 50 years, and various standards and regulations, such as the National Ambient Air Quality Standards, have come into effect. This has resulted in better awareness within the American population, who want to live a long and healthy life. . Filtering particulate matter in commercial and residential buildings is crucial to attain a good indoor air quality. That’s why Freudenberg Filtration Technologies has established itself as a manufacturer of top-quality filtration solutions. With over 60 years of filtration experience in general industrial air filtration, our experts develop filtration solutions that offer protection against fine dust in a wide variety of areas. Our filters are designed specifically to target particulate matter pollution and contribute to a healthy lifestyle for all Americans. Stay tuned for more information on our product range to filter particulate matter in your building.



[2] Teresa To, et al. "Progression from Asthma to Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. Is Air Pollution a Risk Factor?" American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, Vol. 194, No. 4 (2016), pp. 429-438.

[3] Pervin, T., Gerdtham, U.-G., & Lyttkens, C. H. (2008). Societal costs of air pollution-related health hazards: A review of methods and results. Cost Effectiveness and Resource Allocation : C/E, 6, 19.

[4] Jaramillo, P. et al. (2016). Air pollution emissions and damages from energy production in the U.S.: 2002–2011, Energy Policy, Volume 90, March 2016, Pages 202-211, ISSN 0301-4215,


[6] Hamra, Ghassan B. et al. (2014). Outdoor Particulate Matter Exposure and Lung Cancer: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Environ Health Perspect, 122(9), 906-911


[8] Correia, A. et al. (2013). The Effect of Air Pollution Control on Life Expectancy in the United States: An Analysis of 545 US counties for the period 2000 to 2007. Epidemiology (Cambridge, Mass.), 24(1), 23–31.