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What is particulate matter (PM) and why should you monitor it?

Particulate matter (PM) is found in the air at any given time. But high concentration of these particles can lead to poor indoor air quality, resulting in health issues or exacerbating existing conditions.

In this article, we’ll give an overview of particulate matter and explain why it’s important to monitor levels within a building.

What is particulate matter (PM)?

It’s a complex mixture of solid and liquid particles suspended in the air. These can include carbon, complex organic chemicals, sulphate, nitrates, ammonium, sodium chloride, mineral dust, water, and a series of metals.

In fact, there are particles of organic and inorganic matter, such as dust, pollen, or smoke, suspended in the air all the time. They come from different sources: primary and secondary.

Primary sources include things like road transport and fuels burned for industrial, commercial or domestic purposes. Secondary sources are formed in the atmosphere from chemical reactions of gases such as nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds.

Particulate matter is categorised by particle size, with three classifications:

  • Ultra fine: <0.1µm in diameter
  • Fine: 0.1 to 2.5µm in diameter
  • Coarse: between 10µm and 2.5µm in diameter

Fine and ultra fine particles are so small they can get deep into the lining of the lungs and even enter the bloodstream. These include combustion particles, organic compounds and metals.

Some coarse particles are small enough to be inhaled and enter the lungs. These include dust, pollen and mould spores.

Coarse particles settle relatively quickly whereas fine and ultra-fine particles remain in suspension for longer.


The health impacts of particulate matter

While some particles like smoke, smog, and soot are visible, the most harmful are the smaller, invisible particles which can get into the lungs and bloodstream.

They are increasingly blamed for both acute and chronic ill-health effects caused by penetration and/or toxicity of the particles.

The health impacts of particulate matter depend on the type of particulate matter, pre-existing conditions, and other environmental factors. The duration of exposure is also a significant factor, as even short-term exposure to particulate matter can have detrimental effects.

Exposure to particulate matter can lead to a number of unpleasant symptoms and conditions, including irritation of the nose, throat, and eyes, dizziness, fatigue, cardiovascular diseases and even some cancers.


How to monitor particulate matter

Understanding the levels of particulate matter in the environment can help organisations ensure good quality indoor air for their people.

Indoor air quality sensors use advanced technology to detect, in real time, different PM levels. They provide continuous measurements of particle concentrations, producing valuable data and enabling trends to be tracked. If PM reaches a certain level, ventilation could be increased or an alert triggered to replace air filters.

When measuring indoor air quality technology is becoming available for reliable measurement of different particle sizes:

  • PM1: 0.3 to 1µm in diameter
  • PM2.5: 1 to 2.5µm in diameter
  • PM4: 2.5 to 4µm in diameter
  • PM10: 4 to 10µm in diameter

Generally, PM2.5 and lower are considered more hazardous to humans.

Pressac’s air quality sensors can measure PM 1/2.5/4/10, along with VOC levels, CO2, humidity and temperature, giving you clear insights into your building’s indoor air quality.

To learn more about indoor air quality monitoring sensors, speak to us today

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