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Environment and Occupational - Air Pollution – Particulate Matter (PM) and Health Effects

Air pollution and the health effects of particulate matter (PM) are important public health issues.

The World Health Organization in 2002 estimated that particulate air pollution is responsible for nearly 2 percent of all deaths worldwide. Recent research on effects of air pollution has focused on particulate matter (PM) -a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets suspended in the air. PM can be made up of aerosols, smoke, fumes, dust, ash and pollen and varies with geographic location, weather conditions and time of year. PM is classified based on its source (primary or secondary) and size (ex PM10, PM2.5). Health effects are strongly associated with exposure to smaller particles because of their ability to reach lower portions of the respiratory tract where gas exchange takes place.   Numerous health problems have been linked to exposure to particulate matter ranging from premature death to increased hospital admissions and emergency room visits for cardiovascular and respiratory causes, upper and lower respiratory symptoms, asthma attacks, the development of chronic bronchitis and restricted activity days.   Research into air pollution has formed the basis for the development of guidelines and standards that aim to reduce the environmental impact on human health. In Canada, the federal government can assess and control air pollutants by setting National Ambient Air Quality Objectives (NAAQOs) and Canada-Wide Standards (CWS) under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA).

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Contributors: Roxanne Lewis, Nawal Farhat

Last reviewed: June 2, 2010

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