5 Things to Know About Particulate Matter

The air we breathe does not only consist of gases but also of a huge variety of particles, some of which can be toxic. Particulate matter, also known as PM, refers to tiny particles suspended in the air. These particles can be made up of a variety of materials, including dust, dirt, soot, and smoke. They can also be composed of tiny droplets of liquid, such as those found in exhaust fumes. Exposure to particulate matter can have a number of negative health effects.

Here are five facts about PM:

Fact 1 – PM Comes from Both Natural and Man-made Sources

PM can come from a variety of sources. It can be produced by natural sources, such as dust storms and wildfires, as well as human activities. Major man-made sources of particulate matter include motor vehicles, power and district heating plants, waste incinerators, residential furnaces and heaters, bulk material handling, and certain industrial processes. In urban areas, road traffic and construction activities are particularly significant sources of particulate matter. Although it may not be obvious, activities such as cooking also contribute to increased PM concentrations. According to an BBC article a "study found that cooking a Sunday roast or Thanksgiving dinner could produce higher levels of PM2.5 than are found on the streets of Delhi, one of the most polluted cities in the world."[1]

Fact 2 – PM Can Be Classified by Size

There are two main categories of PM: PM10 and PM2.5. PM10 refers to particles that are 10 micrometers or less in diameter, while PM2.5 refers to particles that are 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter. For size comparison, a human hair has an approximate diameter of 100 micrometers. It would therefore take about 10 PM10 particles or 40 PM2.5 particles to completely surround a hair. PM2.5 is considered more harmful to human health because it can enter the lungs and bloodstream more easily.

Fact 3 – PM Can Have Serious Effects on Human Health

Exposure to PM can cause a variety of health problems, especially in vulnerable groups of people such as the young, elderly, and those with respiratory problems. Due to the small size of many of the particles, some of these toxins may enter the bloodstream and be transported through the body, lodging in the heart, brain and other organs, potentially leading to respiratory and cardiovascular disease, lung cancer, or premature death. PM can also aggravate existing conditions, such as asthma and heart disease.

Fact 4 – PM Impacts Indoor and Outdoor Environments

PM can have environmental effects as well. Particulate matter can harm plants and animals, as well as damage buildings and other structures. PM can also contribute to climate change by absorbing and scattering light in the atmosphere. Some of the PM found indoors originates from the outdoors, especially PM2.5, entering indoor spaces through doors, windows, and leakiness in building structures.

Indoor activities generate particles, as well, including smoking tobacco, cooking and burning wood, candles or incense. Particles also can form indoors from complex reactions of gaseous pollutants emitted from such sources as household cleaning products and air fresheners.

Fact 5 – You Can Reduce Your Exposure to PM

First step to reduce PM levels is knowing exposure levels and sources of PM. TSI solutions are designed to help you take initiative of the health and well-being of your building and its occupants. Create your own IEQ solution by combining TSI products, from continuous air monitoring for outdoor and indoor, to using our investigative tools helping you pin-point the problem and act fast with TSI Link™ Solutions, a cloud-based software you have the ability to manage your devices and view air quality data from anywhere at any time.


Whatever role you take on - maintaining the health of a building’s indoor environment is critical to maintaining the health and well-being of the occupants. Start monitoring your building’s IEQ today!

[1] https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200909-why-indoor-air-pollution-is-an-overlooked-problem