Particulate Matter and Health

Climate Implications – Particulate Matter and Health

Particulate matter means tiny particles of pollution, one-tenth or less the diameter of a human hair. Longer and more intense droughts and extreme heat events increase the likelihood of wildfires, which release significant amounts of particulate matter into the air and threaten public health. As the climate changes, wildfires are expected to increase in many parts of the country. Higher temperatures and drought can also lead to drier conditions and more dust.

An extensive body of scientific evidence indicates that breathing in fine particles over the course of hours to days (short-term exposure) and months to years (long-term exposure) can cause serious public health effects that include premature death and adverse cardiovascular effects.

Long-term and short-term exposure to fine particles can cause:

  • Premature death, especially due to cardiovascular effects
  • Non-fatal cardiovascular events, such as heart attacks and strokes, as well as increased hospital admissions and emergency department visits for congestive heart failure and reduced blood supply to the heart
  • Respiratory effects such as: asthma attacks; coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath; reduced lung function and development

Scientific evidence also indicates that breathing in larger (“coarse”) sizes of particulate matter may also have public health consequences. Short-term exposure may be linked to:

  • Premature death
  • Hospital admissions and emergency department visits for heart- and lung-related diseases

At-Risk Populations

People most at risk from particle pollution include people with diseases that affect the heart or lung (including asthma), older adults, children and people of lower socioeconomic status. Research indicates that pregnant women, newborns and people with certain health conditions, such as obesity or diabetes, also may be at increased risk of particle-related health effects.