Particulate matter: what are the damages of pollution to human health

Particulate matter: what are the damages of pollution to human health

What is particulate matter

With acronyms PM10 And PM2.5 refers to fine particles that have a diameter, respectively, less than or equal to 10 microns or 2.5 microns. These are the most frequent pollutants in urban areas, because they derive from all types of combustion, from car and motorbike engines to energy production systems, from wood for home heating to forest fires and many other industrial processes.

The scientific evidence: the health damage of pollution

There are now numerous epidemiological, clinical and toxicological studies that have highlighted how exposure to air pollution can have a significant impact on human health, even at much lower levels than believed until a few years ago.

Suffice it to say that, according to a recent study by Monash University published in The Lancet Planetary Healthshort-term exposure – even a few hours or a few days – to high levels of air pollution kills one million people worldwide every year, half of them in East Asia.

The particles enter the body through breathing and can be deposited in some part of the respiratory system or in the rest of the body. Here they can be absorbed or cause biological damage.

Pollution and inflammation

As he explains Snpa (the National System for Environmental Protection) in Air Quality Report in Italy 2023 reportthe onset of pathological conditions linked to particulate matter is preceded and accompanied by “the establishment of an inflammatory microenvironment, which can also contribute to the aggravation of pre-existing pathologies. Chronicity, therefore, leads the inflammation process to transform from an important mechanism of defense to support innate immunity to pathogenetic processes”.

Related diseases

Particulate matter has been linked to illness and deaths from heart or lung disease. Air pollution does not only affect the respiratory system. For example, volatile hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide enter the lungs and reach the brain and other organs via the blood, just as very small metal particles enter the blood and can be deposited in bones, teeth and kidneys.

In more sensitive people, such as asthmatics or those with pre-existing lung and heart diseases, there is a risk of decreased lung function and a triggering of symptoms (for example cough or an asthma attack), as well as an alteration of the mechanisms of regulation of the heart and blood clotting.

According to the World Health Organization, according to the current state of knowledge, it is not possible to set an exposure threshold below which adverse health effects certainly will not occur in the population.

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