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Particulate Matter Exposure

The air we breathe can be contaminated by emissions from outdoor sources such as motor vehicles, industry, heating and commercial, as well as indoor sources like tobacco smoke and household fuels.

Particle pollution (also known as “particulate matter”) in the air includes a mixture of solids and liquid droplets. Some particles are emitted directly; others are formed in the atmosphere when other pollutants react. Particles come in a wide range of sizes. Those less than 10 micrometers in diameter (PM10) are so small that they can get into the lungs, potentially causing serious health problems.

Fine particles (PM2.5). Particles less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter are called “fine” particles. These particles are so small they can be detected only with an electron microscope. Sources of fine particles include all types of combustion, including motor vehicles, power plants, residential wood burning, forest fires, agricultural burning, and some industrial processes.

Coarse dust particles. Particles between 2.5 and 10 micrometers in diameter are referred to as “coarse.” Sources of coarse particles include crushing or grinding operations, and dust stirred up by vehicles traveling on roads.

  • In the WHO European Region alone, exposure to particulate matter (PM) decreases the life expectancy of every person by an average of almost 1 year, mostly due to increased risk of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, and lung cancer.

  • A recent study using data from 25 cities in the EU has estimated that life expectancy could be increased by up to approximately 22 months in the most polluted cities if the long-term PM2.5 concentration was reduced to the WHO guideline annual level.

  • Some 40 million people in the 115 largest cities in the EU are exposed to air exceeding WHO air quality guideline values for at least one pollutant.

  • Ozone pollution causes breathing difficulties, triggers asthma symptoms, causes lung and heart diseases, and according to statistics is associated with about 21 000 premature deaths per year in the Region.

  • Indoor air pollution from biological agents in indoor air related to damp and mould increases the risk of respiratory disease in children and adults by 50%.

  • A panel of experts working for the World Health Organization says exhaust fumes from diesel engines do cause cancer:


The UK and EU set legally binding limits on levels of harmful air pollution based on World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines. One or more of these limits has been broken in London in every year since they came into effect in 2005.

Environmental Nano Solutions are working on ways we can improve our air quality and meet EU standards, for both an individual and urban scale.