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Particulate matter poses a significant threat

Over the last several decades, more and more people have adopted an eco-friendly lifestyle in the hopes of preserving the planet and reducing pollution. Some types of pollution, such as industrial air pollution or pollution coming from automobiles, are easily recognizable, while others, such as particulate matter, are nearly invisible.

Particulate matter, also known as particle pollution, is a complex mixture of extremely small particles and liquid droplets. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, particulate matter is made up of several components, including acids like nitrates and sulfates, organic chemicals, metals, and soil or dust particles. The EPA notes that particle pollution includes inhalable coarse particles with diameters larger than 2.5 micrometers and smaller than 10 micrometers and fine particles with diameters that are 2.5 micrometers and smaller. That's incredibly small, especially when considering a single human hair is roughly 70 micrometers in diameter. Inhalable coarse particles are those typically found near roadways and dusty industries, while fine particles are those found in smoke and haze.

Though small, particle pollution can cause significant health problems, with the potential to affect both your lungs and your heart. The microscopic solids and liquid droplets within particle pollution can get deep into the lungs, and studies have linked this exposure to a number of problems, including:

* irritation of the respiratory airways

* increased coughing

* increased difficulty breathing

* decreased lung function

* development of chronic bronchitis

* irregular heartbeat

* nonfatal heart attacks

* premature death in people with lung or heart disease

Though anyone can experience temporary symptoms from particle pollution exposure, especially if there are elevated levels in the air, people with heart or lung diseases are the most likely to be affected by exposure. Children and elderly adults are more susceptible as well.

In addition to harming human beings, particle pollution can prove very harmful to the environment. Because particle pollution can be carried long distances by the wind, the particles can settle on the ground and in water, meaning particle pollution can impact communities where it didn't even form. Particles that settle in water can contaminate lakes and streams or negatively impact the nutrient balance in coastal waters and large river basins. When settling on land, particle pollution can deplete nutrients in the soil and damage farm crops and sensitive forests. What's more, fine particles are a major cause of haze in national parks and wilderness areas.

While pollution is often visible, it doesn't have to be seen by the naked eye to harm the environment or threaten your health. More information about particulate matter is available at www.epa.gov.