10 Devastating Particulate Matter Health Effects & Mechanism Explained

Here we are...

The second installment of my 4-part series on particulate matter. in this blog post, I'll specifically look at the health effects of particulate matter.

This blog post explores 10 different devastating health effects of particulate matter and explains the physiological mechanism of action.

My previous blog post - the first installment of this series - looked at what particulate matter is.

But let me quickly recap the argument:

Particulate matter is tiny particles that you breathe in through your lungs. Different types of particulte matter exists, such as "PM2.5", "PM10", and "PM0.1".

These numbers denote the size of these particles. The numbers display the size of these particles in "micrometers" or "microns". A micron is a millionth of a millimeter, so particulate matter are extremely small.

Particulate matter also kills 800,000 people every single year and shortens the lives of more than 6 million people.

The problem is that particulate matter is everywhere: industry, transit (cars), and even some environments such as deserts emit particulate matter. Also, indoor levels of particulate matter are usually higher than outdoor levels, contrary to what many people believe.

Again, if you want a much more detailed account of what particulate matter is, read my blog post about the topic.

Let's now take a deeper dive into the topic of the 10 most important particulate matter health effects. First, a mechanistic and physiological explanation on how exactly particulate matter causes damage:



How Inhaling Particulate Matter Affects Your Airways, Lungs, And Health - Physiological Mechanism

Getting exposed to all the particulate matter in the world would not really matter if these substances never ended up in your body. That toxic stuff does end up in your body, however, and causes health problems.

The question is, of course: "how does particulate matter get there?"

The answer to that question is, unfortunately, not fully known yet. The upside (or perhaps downside) is that many different mechanisms have been found.

What is known, from rat studies, for example, is that part of the PM2.5 you inhale sticks to the "epithelium" of your lungs.[168Epithelium cells make up the inner linings of your lungs where air is exchanged.[331]

In rat studies, the bacterial colonies in the airways also altered by particulate matter as well.[333When the wrong bacteria are located in air airways or lungs, you'll have higher risks for getting infections--millions of people die yearly due to airway infections...

Human autopsies also demonstrate that if you're exposed to lots of particulate matter these substances can be found in your lungs after death.[169

It can thus be definitively concluded that particulate matter does end up in your airways and lungs - the only question is precisely how...

In fact, about 1% of the particular matter you inhale even ends up in your blood.[170]


PM2.5, because it is smaller than PM10, can penetrate up until the lung sacs - called "alveoli" - the location where blood exchanges oxygen in the lungs.

Your lungs transfer oxygen from outside your body to your blood and remove excess carbon dioxide (CO2). Problems emerge when you're breathing in fine particles, as some of these particles are thus exchanged with your blood together with oxygen and CO2.

Fortunately, you've got what is called a "lymphatic system". That lymphatic system filters your blood, removing some particulate matter found therein. The lymphatic system is an important part of your immune system.

The downside is that the lymphatic system cannot filter all particulate matter.

Transferred by your blood, some of the particulate matter ends up in other organs (because your lungs are already hit by this point) - examples are your heart, kidneys, and brain.

Even fetuses - in other words: unborn babies - are affected by particulate matter accumulation.[171; 172; 173; 174; 175] To be precise: mothers' every 10 micro-grams increase in particulate matter per m3 of air leads to a 5-gram loss in birth weight.

Prospective mothers: beware...

If (or rather: when) particulate matter has reached your lungs, blood, and other organs, it can wreak havoc:

  • Your lungs become more inflamed when exposed to particulate matter.[192; 193; 194. 195; 196; 197; 198; 334] 

    This effect has only been firmly established in animal studies--but is nevertheless firmly established. Lung inflammation underlies airway diseases such as asthma.

    Remember that without properly functioning lungs, you cannot accomplish anything in life: oxygen is (indirectly) necessary for any process in your body to keep running.

  • Particulate matter affects the health of your blood.[201; 202; 203]

    Hemoglobin concentrations - which carries oxygen in your blood - are reduced due to particulate matter. Hemoglobin is located in your red blood cells. These red blood cells are also decreased in number with more particulate matter exposure.

    White blood cells, which are integral in your body's immune response, are altered in response particulate matter increases in the environment...

    Additionally, substances that allow your blood to clot are negatively affected. 

    Overall markers of stress are additionally increased in the blood with more particulate matter exposure.

    No bueno...

  • Lung tissue becomes more penetrable to foreign substances.[186; 187; 188] 

    A greater penetrability of lung tissue entails that pathogens such as unhealthy bacteria or viruses can also pass more easily into your bloodstream. Some contradictory evidence exists in this instance though--this effect is not yet firmly established.

  • Even our gut bacteria are altered by particulate matter.[189; 190; 191; 192]

    Many people are aware nowadays that the bacteria in their gut are essential to maintaining good overall health. These bacteria are thus negatively affected by air pollution...

As you can see, there are several mechanisms by which particulate matter affects your body. Many mechanisms, such as how particulate matter influences organ function, still need to be investigated in more depth.

And there's more evidence:

The absorption of particulate matter from the environment through the lungs can occur very directly.



If you're living near a cement plant that emits lots of chromium into the air, that chromium can be detected in your blood, for example.[199] 

Another example:

If the particulate matter you inhale contains more lead you'll simply end up with more toxic lead in your blood.[332] 

Particulate matter can increase lead levels in that air through certain cooking methods or by traffic emissions. Even the water quality in your area can also be negatively affected.[332; 335; 336]

lungs can direclty absorb particulate matter if you're in a polluted area or operate machineryMetalworkers: beware--don't just protect your eyes, but also your airways...


On another note:

Remember that I mentioned that particulate matter larger than PM10 was not regulated because governments would have to mainly regulate sand that's transmitted through the air?

There's another reason why particulate matter larger than PM10 is less harmful: these substances are much more easily filtered in the nose and upper airways.[217Large particulate matter is thus not your main health concern, as the body can more adequately deal with them. 

Ultrafine particulate matter - PM0.1 - is yet another story.[162; 255]

These very tiny particles can directly end up in your brain when you breathe them.


These particles may travel through or alongside the nerve that runs from your nose to your brain - called the "olfactory nerve".

Unfortunately, the science regarding ultrafine particulate matter (PM0.1) is relatively new--but even PM2.5 levels have not been controlled for very long...

Let me explain...

The EPA did not even measure PM2.5 levels before 1997. PM0.1 - which are even smaller of course - has only been the new "star" on the block in recent years

The health effects of particulate matter are thus actively being researched today and in the coming decades.

It can reasonably be expected that many new mechanisms by which particulate matter affects your body are discovered in time.

That's bad news, as you'll have to act on incomplete data today...

In the next section, I'll explore the currently scientifically-proven health effects of exposing yourself to this toxin - even today's incomplete data is frightening...



10 Scientifically-Proven Particulate Matter Health effects

Let's dig deep into a complete list of all the effects that particulate matter can have on your overall health. 

Fasten your seat belts - this is going to be a somewhat depressing list.

Keep in mind that, after you've read the entire list I will tell you exactly how to actually avoid all these particulate matter health disasters...





1. All Cause Mortality

Particulate matter increases what is called "all-cause mortality" - your "general risk of dying".[31; 32; 33; 34; 35; 36; 37; 38; 39; 40; 41; 42; 43; 44; 46; 47; 140]

All-cause mortality is the broadest risk of dying that's measured in medicine. 


All-cause mortality is a very useful measurement because you're not just taking the direct effects of any health variable you're investigating into account, but also its indirect effects. 



Let's say I'm researching whether drinking alcohol increases my all-cause mortality risk. In that case, a direct all-cause mortality effect of drinking alcohol that I'd expect is an increase in liver problems and therefore a higher death rate. 

An indirect effect, however, would be a higher risk of dying of accidents - because you're more fearless on alcohol while also losing coordination.

Translated to the case of particular matter, an increase in all-cause mortality cannot merely be explained by an increased risk of heart attacks, but also due to your general fitness level that's decreasing, which makes you less able to jump away from a car that's heading your way (too) quickly.

Let's consider another indirect effect of how particulate matter exposure influences your all-cause mortality:

If you've got other diseases, such as tuberculosis, for instance, particulate matter inhibits your recovery and causes you to recover less well from that disease.

No matter what your condition, it's safe to assume that an increase in particulate matter exposure makes recovery much harder...

But let's go back to particulate matter's primary effects on all-cause mortality: even a couple of days of increased exposure to either PM2.5 or PM10 emissions when spending time in a particular area already heighten your risk of death.

There's a difference between several types of particulate matter on all-cause mortality though: 

Some compounds such as "elemental carbon" or "organic carbon" are proven to have big effects, while evidence for the effect of metals in particulate matter is thinner. Lead or cadmium are examples of toxic metals.

(Please keep in mind that I don't want to go in too much depth regarding different chemicals because this topic is already complex.)

Nevertheless, the research on the effect of particulate matter on all-cause mortality is extremely solid: there's a small effect that increases the more particulate matter exposure you get - it's extremely rare to find contradictory outcomes here.

Interestingly enough, particulate matter doesn't just increase your risk for "classical" air pollution diseases such as lung or heart diseases--even your propensity for self-harm (and thus psychological issues), nervous system illnesses, and movement disorders increase. 

I'll get back to the issue of nervous system disorders later on...

Let's first consider an effect that should now be almost self-evident :


2. (Chronic) Lung Disease

Particulate matter leads to (chronic) lung disease.[32; 37; 118; 119; 120; 121; 122; 123; 124; 125; 127; 128; 129; 130; 131; 132; 133; 134; 135; 136; 137; 139; 140; 141; 142; 143; 146; 147; 148; 149; 150; 151]

Just as you can expect smoking to have a large effect on your lungs, the same is true for breathing particulate matter.

For that reason, particulate matter's effects on your lungs specifically and respiratory system, in general, has been extensively studied. These health effects have been investigated in many countries, such as China, countries in Latin America, and the West, and the effect on your airways (and general health) is firmly established...

The results can even be quantified:

For every 10 micrograms PM2.5 increase per m3 in your environment, the number and intensity of respiratory problems you'll have increases linearly.

If you already have lung or respiratory problems, particulate matter can further exacerbate these conditions. If you're coughing, wheezing, or having frequent respiratory tract infections, you'll have to be especially careful with particulate matter exposure.

Simply put, particulate matter is more lethal if you've already got lung diseases.

Lung conditions such as "COPD" are also directly caused by particulate matter exposure.

With COPD, you'll have trouble breathing and using the air they breathe correctly.

Children's lungs are harmed more quickly by particulate matter's effects - children, for example, are more prone to be admitted to hospitals and have asthma with greater particulate matter exposure levels.

Children exposed to lots of particulate matter will also develop their lung function more slowly. Even in middle school, children's health development is still negatively affected by particulate matter.

If you're older, particulate matter additionally makes your lung function decline faster than age peers with less exposure.

Although there's some conflict of evidence, particulate matter may even decreases lung function if you're healthy.

How about another common lung disease, "asthma"? 

(Asthma entails you've got a (chronic) inflammation of the airways.)

Even with more short-term exposure to PM2.5 you're more prone to visit the emergency room as an asthma patient.

Children with asthma are more susceptible than adults (yet again). More exposure to PM2.5 and PM10 can even help predict the chances of children having asthma once they turn 18. 

There's also a relationship between low birth weight, asthma, and PM2.5 exposure. 

Even a mother's exposure to particulate matter while being pregnant is associated with increased probabilities of their eventual children getting asthma. Wheezing frequency is also increased with more prenatal particulate matter exposure.

Crazy but true...

And when you've got asthma, particulate matter will trigger that condition to be worse.

Thus: steer clear from air pollution if you've got asthma or want to avoid it...

And don't be fooled into thinking that the danger with particulate matter lies exclusively outside your house. 

Indoor particulate matter energy sources, such as firewood, kerosene, or liquid petroleum gas, are particularly dangerous. Many countries in the developing world still generate lots of indoor particulate matter through those methods.

That indoor particulate matter is often "trapped" indoors - causing a continual re-circulation of these damaging substances.

More bad news coming...

I'm just getting started with particulate mater's effects on your lungs:


3. Lung Cancer Risk

Particulate matter increases your risk of getting lung cancer.[122; 126; 141; 142; 152; 155; 156; 167; 204]

The World Health Organization has classified particulate matter as a "class 1 carcinogen" - entailing that the substance is known to cause cancer in humans. The International Agency for Research on Cancer puts the substance in the same category.

The effects of smoking and particulate matter exposure accumulate: if you've ever smoked in the past, the effects of particulate matter is added on top of your greater lung cancer risk due to smoking.

Surprisingly, current smokers experience less of an impact from particulate matter compared to non-smokers. The reason for that outcome is probably that smokers have built more tolerance towards ingesting toxins through their airways.

Of course, remember that smokers still have an increased lung cancer risk compared to non-smokers, because they are exposed to two carcinogens instead of one (cigarettes or cigars and particulate matter).

(So there's no reason to start smoking.)

I hope you're beginning to see a pattern here: inhaling particulate matter is a kind of second-hand smoking. 

About 80% of studies also claim that particulate matter increases lung cancer risk.

What if you've already got lung cancer?

Consider these numbers;

The relative risk of dying from lung cancer increases with 9% per every 10 micrograms per m3 of PM2.5, and 5% for every 10 micrograms per m3 of the PM10 concentration of the air your breathe.


4. Increased Stress

Particulate matter directly makes you more stressed.[67; 68; 157; 158; 159; 200]

Yes, really...


Several stress hormones are actually immediately increased when more particulate matter is present in the air you're breathing. 

A difference in exposure of 24 micrograms per m3 instead of 53 micrograms of particulate matter per m3 - due to air purification being tested in a study - led to lower levels of the "cortisol", "adrenaline", "cortisone", and "noradrenaline" - which are all stress hormones.

Keep in mind that many cities in the developed world reach that 53 micrograms per m3 concentration, and that people in these environments thus tend to have chronically elevated stress hormone levels.

Particulate matter additionally increases your blood pressure, an effect further builds up if you're already under higher stress levels. Guess what? Many people actually are under high-stress levels in modern society...

High particulate matter levels heighten your blood pressure almost instantly by a couple of points. In other words, if you're exposed your blood pressure increases immediately afterward.

There's more gloom and doom though:

Quality of life and overall mood can also be decreased by particulate matter exposure - especially in men. During pregnancy particulate matter also increases how often you (if you're a woman) get a depression.

The higher stress and poorer quality of life effects of particulate matter hit younger people harder than the elderly.

I know these results sound bad but stay with me: solutions are covered in a later section...

Let's first consider another particulate matter health effect--you already know that particulate matter ends up in your bloodstream through the lungs--so:


5. Heart Disease

Particulate matter directly causes heart disease.[37; 53; 54; 55; 56; 57; 58; 59; 60; 61; 62; 63; 64; 65; 66; 76; 93; 94; 95; 111; 118; 120; 161; 309]

Not only blood pressure but also heart rate increases with greater PM2.5 exposure. 

At the maximum, the difference between very low and very high levels of particulate matter exposure can make the difference of a total of 12 points in blood pressure and 8 beats per minute qua heat rate. 

(I'm considering systolic blood pressure here, which is blood pressure measured during a heartbeat.)

Heart rate variability, which is a marker of your body's general stress levels, is also negatively affected by more PM2.5 exposure. 

If you're thinking: "so how does heart rate variability track stress?", then I'll tell you:

The more variability between different heartbeats, the lower your overall stress levels. If the interval between heartbeats is really continuous, it's a sign of having greater stress levels - which precisely occurs with greater particulate matter exposure.

Phrased differently, your heart rhythm can thus be affected by particulate matter. While evidence for particulate matter's effect on heart rate variability exists, the relationship is currently weak.

Nevertheless, disruptions in heart rhythm, which is often a sign of heart disease, will occur due to particulate matter exposure.

The overall effect on heart health is crystal-clear:

For every microgram of particulate per m3 that's added to your environment, your risk of heart disease increases - again, a straightforward linear relationship is found.

Particular matter's effects on heart disease can have far-reaching consequences: exposure can eventually lead to a stroke, heart attacks, or degeneration of your blood vessels.

(In a heart attack your heart has insufficient oxygen, and as a consequence (a part of) your heart dies off. A stroke is similar, but happens in your brain, due to poor blood flow or low oxygen levels.)

Getting exposed to more particulate matter directly causes people to have more heart attacks. 

Every 5 micrograms of particulate matter per m3 that you're exposed to on a daily basis also increase your risk for having a stroke. There's thus a dose-dependent response to particulate matter in stroke risk (yet again). 

Let's explore seven different mechanisms that explain the relationship between particulate matter and heart disease:

The first mechanism is that blood vessels deteriorate. As a result of that deterioration, your heart or brain are more prone to end up in a situation where they no longer get sufficient oxygen.

A second mechanism is that particulate matter lowers the ability of stem cells to function well. Stem cells are primordial cells that can differentiate into many different specialized cells, such as those found in your blood vessels.

The regeneration of your blood vessels (and also organs) can thus be undermined if stem cells cannot do their job.

A third mechanism by which particulate matter increases your risk for heart disease is by inducing what is called "oxidative damage". 

Oxidative damage occurs because of harmful reactions with oxygen. To counter that damaging process, you commonly consume anti-oxidant rich foods such as vegetables - antioxidants inhibit these damaging reactions.

It's reasonable to assume that particulate matter creates oxidative damage wherever it ends up in your body...

Particulate matter leads to higher risks for heart disease, fourthly, by increasing inflammation levels. Inflammation underlies many modern diseases.

Fifthly, particulate matter affects heart and blood vessel health is by influencing blood clotting. Particulate matter can additionally cause thrombosis - an excessive clotting of blood in your blood vessels.

Sixthly, bio-markers in your blood that are associated with heart disease, such as triglycerides, are also negatively affected.

And lastly: remember it has been demonstrated that particulate matter literally ends up in your circulation, lowering blood quality.

Particulate matter can thus have a huge effect on your heart and blood vessel health, and cut your life short by several years. Unfortunately, the effects of particulate matter on causing heart disease are really solid..

Taking a broader perspective: heart attacks (40%) and strokes (40%) are by far the most important reasons of dying because of air pollution.[3]

Steer clear of particulate matter if heart health is your goal. Next, yet another bummer:


6. Increased Diabetes Risk


Particulate matter increases your diabetes risk.[52; 68; 168]

Longer-term exposure to PM2.5 will literally cause some people to have diabetes--people who would have otherwise not gotten that disease.

Particulate matter also induces what is called "insulin resistance", which is associated with diabetes. With insulin resistance, your cells cannot properly take up and use carbohydrates (glucose) anymore.

Rat studies have demonstrated that high particulate matter exposures lead to insulin resistance throughout the entire body. Poor diets might thus not the only reason people end up with diabetes in modern society...

Then, another expected consequence:

7. Decreased Nervous System Health And brain Damage


Particulate matter decreases brain and nervous system health.[49; 81; 96; 97; 98; 99; 100; 101; 102; 103; 104; 106; 107; 108; 109; 110; 111; 112; 113; 114; 115; 116; 117]

Cognitive function, for example, specifically decreases under the influence of particulate matter. Having more general stress exacerbates that problem. You'll thus make more mistakes on cognitive tasks with higher particulate matter exposure levels.

More particulate matter exposure also quickens your cognitive decline in old age. 

In babies and children, particulate matter exposure increases what is called "inflammation" in their brains. Again, inflammation is associated with many modern diseases. 

Even before birth - as you've frequently read right now - particulate matter may have an effect upon the child's eventual health. More particulate matter exposure leads to less development of the "neocortex", a brain region that is highly developed in human beings, and specific to your human capabilities.

Regardless of age, if you're living near a major road, you're more prone to have a smaller brain volume, more brain infarcts, and more pathological changes to your brain.

That's bad news...

More particulate matter exposure you may even end up with fewer brain cells - although that effect is still contested. And while that effect is not enormously strong, it's measurable sometimes.

What's fascinating is that the effects of particulate matter on the nervous system have not been studied in great detail yet. 

Remember that while it's demonstrated that particulate matter ends up in your circulation--how particulate matter ends up in the nervous system or brain is not fully understood yet.

Nevertheless, brain diseases do increase under the effects of particulate matter - examples are Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, dementia, but also regular headaches. 


That's not sure again...

Rat studies, however, do show that inhaling particulate matter increases the "beta-amyloid" buildup, which is one of the plaques causing Alzheimer's disease - a common brain degenerative disorder.

Overall blood vessel health in the brain is also reduced through particulate matter exposure in rat studies. 

In the same poor rats, maternal exposure to particulate matter during pregnancy also affects the nervous system and immune system development in their offspring.

That's not all:

Another reason to suspect that particulate matter contributes to brain diseases is that air pollution, in general, has already been demonstrated to cause brain diseases.

While there's still some conflict of evidence regarding this topic, but I assume it's very probable that many negative effects of particulate matter on human brains will eventually be demonstrated.

I'm happy almost done with this list:

8. Increased Oxidative Stress & Inflammation


Unsurprisingly, particulate matter may also increase your body's "oxidative stress" and inflammation levels.[70; 71; 72; 73; 74; 75; 76; 77; 78; 79; 80; 82; 160; 309]

Remember I've talked about oxidative stress before - in relation to your blood vessels. The effect of particulate matter on inflammation in your body is broader, unfortunately.

Skin cells, brain cells, lung cells, and nerve cells, for example, can all be affected by particulate matter.

Particulate matter also increases inflammation levels in general - as these substances can end up in many locations in your body, they can have far-reaching effects on how tissues function.

Inflammation is associated with many modern diseases, such as autoimmune disease, heart disease, and cancer.

There's one caveat: 

Many of these effects on oxidative stress and inflammation are proven based on cell cultures in laboratory studies--and have not yet been verified in humans. 

Oxidative stress and inflammation are not always bad either. Why? Some theories do claim that the oxidative stress and inflammation are protective to avoid further damage. 

Nevertheless, chronic long-term exposure of particulate matter can cause cells in your body to die. Cell death may be one of the mechanisms that explain how particulate matter causes damage to the airways and lungs.

Almost done...

One last (negative) effect of particulate matter exposure:

9. Decreased Mitochondrial Function


Your mitochondria - the "energy-producing factories of your cells" - are negatively affected by particulate matter.[83; 84; 85; 86; 87; 88; 89; 90; 91; 92]

Even before birth, higher exposure levels of mothers to PM2.5 will cause more problems in the specific DNA of your mitochondria.

Many people don't know that their mitochondria have their own DNA - that you solely inherit through your mother - which is different than your regular genome.

During the last decade, it has become apparent that the DNA of your mitochondria is much more predictive of whether you'll develop certain modern diseases than your regular genes. 

Disease increases because of errors in copying the DNA of your mitochondria over time. You'll essentially end up with more and more diverging mitochondrial DNA over your lifetime, through which your mitochondria no longer function well anymore.

Thus, if the mitochondrial DNA of a fetus is slightly damaged through particulate matter exposure of the mother, that's serious business. Lifetime trauma of the mother increases that damaging effect--and the effect is also stronger for boys.

The parts of the mitochondrial genome that is activated in fetuses is also altered by maternal particulate matter exposure. Through that mechanism, particulate matter can change how your mitochondria handle energy and information - potentially leading to health problems and lower energy levels down the road.

After birth and as an adult, particulate matter still affects your mitochondria negatively:

If you work multiple days in a row in an industry where lots of toxic metals are emitted, certain biomarkers related to the incorrect copying of your mitochondria's DNA increase.

Rat studies also demonstrate that particulate matter can damage the functioning of the mitochondria in your heart. In humans, that same effect appears when people smoke cigarettes - which are substances emitting particulate matter.

Mitochondria in immune cells - such as those found in your lymph system - are also disrupted. 

10. Other Effects

So that's it...

The final list of most of particulate matter's health effects...

Sure, there are many other topics that I could have covered, such as skin disease,[144; 185changes in your DNA,[162; 163; 164; 165and causal increases of autism in children - all due to particulate matter exposure.[221; 222; 223; 224; 225; 226

Other examples are that fetuses may be born prematurely or even die, have birth defects, and that children get more lung issues after birth.[176; 177; 178; 179; 180; 181; 182; 183; 184]

The problems don't stop there:

Even as an adult, air pollution will also make you less productive. If the indoor air quality of your office is poor, you'll lose 6-9% of productivity each day.[228]

living in an area of clean mountains allows you to circumvent the DNA damage caused by particulate matter

The ultimate office: no air pollution and plenty of sunlight.


My main goal with this section was to demonstrate that the particulate matter health effects are very negative

Remember that are skeptical towards the negative health effects of air pollution, not understanding the extent of the damage that's being done.

I hope you are convinced by now...


Advanced explanation: short-term causal models are available for studying the effects of PM exposure on health, but longer-term causal models are not that prevalent as of right now - especially for PM0.1. I'm very interested in longer-term studies of particulate matter exposure.[105; 166]


I've already alluded in the section above that some groups of people should be more worried about exposing themselves to particulate matter though. 


Let's find out...


Who Suffers Most From Particulate Matter Exposure?

You're more susceptible to particulate matter's negative health consequences if you are:[40; 44; 56; 58; 63; 153; 305; 306; 307]




Because children breathe a relatively greater amount of air, particulate matter affects them more than adults. Children also have immune systems that have yet to fully develop, making them more susceptible--and lastly, children just spend more time outside, ensuring they're exposed to more particulate matter.

If You Already Lung Problems

If you already have lung issues, such as asthma. With lung diseases, you've already got less leeway, and particulate matter further decreases that maneuverability room...

Existing Health Problems

Examples are currently having heart problems or diabetes - your overall health is lower in such instances so that you're less well able to cope with particulate matter exposure.

Of Older Age

Yes, particulate matter hits you harder if you are of older age - elderly simply have less resilience than younger people.

Remark: there does not seem to be any difference between how ethnicity are affected by particulate matter exposure.

Worldwide, the greatest overall burden of particulate matter exposure is actually carried by elderly people in low to mid-income countries. 

Some of these countries have very high atmospheric particulate matter levels, which is toxic when combined with the lowered defensiveness of elderly people.

Almost done considering the health effects...


How Long Does Particulate Matter Affect You?

Let's consider another problem: how long does particulate matter exposure affect you?[47; 48; 49]

The answer varies, but some studies suggest that your health can be negatively influenced for decades after the initial (heavy) exposure.

Of course, the exposure I get today will most heavily impact how I function today and tomorrow. But overall, previous exposures can possibly influence your health years down the road.

Even your brain volume and the health of your blood today may thus have been negatively affected by previous particulate matter exposure.

Naturally, past exposure to particulate matter becomes less and less damaging over time. Your current exposure thus remains the most important predicting factor in determining what particulate matter's health effects are - unless you ended up with an irreversible disease.

The bottom line is that timing matters: just a few hours of exposure to particulate matter can increase your risk of having adverse heart problems, for example.[300] 

In other words, if you travel to London tomorrow, the air there will immediately have negative consequences to your health...

Keep in mind that the full health effects of particulate matter are even more complex:

While different chemicals in particular matter are important for the eventual outcome, I've chosen not to distinguish between all these effects in this blog post.[58]

This blog post is already running too long for some people to read...

Treating tens if not hundreds of different chemicals such as potassium or nickel, and their respective effects on different diseases would make the topic unnecessarily complex for most readers.

Also remember that particulate matter is not the only type of air pollution.

Particulate matter is made up of 1) solids; 2) liquids. Lots of evidence also exists, however, that gases can negatively impact your health.

A simple example of a gas is benzene that you may get exposed to when filling up the tank of your car. 

I do want to re-emphasize one point:


Key Takeaway:

PM0.1 or "ultrafine" particulate matter is the most damaging to your helath.[218; 219]

First of all, ultrafine PM0.1 can be directly taken up into the bloodstream, without filtering in the nose, airways, or lungs.

I've chosen not to go into more detail into the specific PM0.1 exposure issue unless many people request a section specifically targeted towards PM0.1 in a new version of this blog post.

Getting into the nitty-gritty of PM0.1 won't interest most poeple.

One last remark of this section:

Please keep in mind that much science inquiring into PM2.5 and PM0.1 specifically has yet to be carried out. Remember that PM2.5 has been intensively investigated for only two decades, and PM0.1 has hit the spotlight for just a few years.

Some of these substances' health effects are just not yet known. The depressive list of health consequences you've read before will thus need to be updated over time...

PM10 has been studied for decades, however. 

On the upside:

Fortunately, this blog post series now transitions to finding solutions for the particulate matter air pollution problem. 

The next section treats the topic of measuring the particulate matter levels in your environment.


Finishing Thoughts: What You Don't Know Can Hurt You!

I hope you've learned that air pollutants, specifically particulate matter, have an enormous impact on your health.

So, contrary to popular belief, health is not just about "eating less and moving more". particulate matter has a wide spectrum of effects, increasing your risk for diabetes and heart disease, slowly poisoning your lungs over time, creating oxidative stress, and damaging your mitochondria.

Especially the young, old, and people with (pre-)existing conditions should be very careful.


The third and fourth installments will change the dynamic of this blog post series towards a more positive message! You'll learn how to lower the damage particulate matter does to your health, in fact!

Stay tuned... 


This is a post by Bart Wolbers. Bart finished degrees in Physical Therapy (B), Philosophy (BA and MA), Philosophy of Science and Technology (MS - with distinction), and Clinical Health Science (MS), and is currently a health consultant at Alexfergus.com. 


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