Region 1: EPA New England

How Does PM Affect Human Health?

Click to enlarge: Lung

Health studies have shown a significant association between exposure to particle pollution and health risks, including premature death. Health effects may include cardiovascular effects such as cardiac arrhythmias and heart attacks, and respiratory effects such as asthma attacks and bronchitis. Exposure to particle pollution can result in increased hospital admissions, emergency room visits, absences from school or work, and restricted activity days, especially for those with pre-existing heart or lung disease, older people, and children.

The size of particles is directly linked to their potential for causing health problems. Fine particles (PM2.5) pose the greatest health risk. These fine particles can get deep into lungs and some may even get into the bloodstream. Exposure to these particles can affect a person's lungs and heart. Coarse particles (PM10-2.5) are of less concern, although they can irritate a person's eyes, nose, and throat. The EPA document Particle Pollution and Your Health (PDF) (2 pp, 320 K, about PDF) explains more about who is at risk from exposure to fine and coarse particles, and includes simple measures that can be taken to reduce health risks.

In New England, real-time data on fine particles are generated from a network of 27 continuous ambient air quality monitors. Data from these monitors are collected hourly and made available to the public via EPA-New England's Air Quality Index web site. The Air Quality Index (AQI) is an index for reporting daily air quality. It tells you how clean or polluted your outdoor air is, and what associated health effects might be a concern for you. The AQI focuses on health effects you may experience within a few hours or days after breathing polluted air.