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Understanding Air Quality: What is PM10?

Unlike VOCs and PM2.5 which I was only 99% clueless about, I can provide little pre-knowledge on the subject of particulate matter 10. In other words, I was 100% clueless on PM10! 

If you missed it, a lot of background information also pertinent to PM10 can be found in the article Understanding Air Quality: Particulate Matter and PM2.5. More detail on pollutant particle sizes can be found in that article, though I’ve provided brief summaries here. At a minimum, go there to read about real-life examples of the particle sizes we’re discussing because it’s fun, then come back here.

What is particulate matter and what’s with the numbers?

In short: teeny, tiny specks of “stuff” in the air made of a variety of compounds. The numbers correspond to the size of the particle, as measured in micrometers (written as μm).

In long: see article linked above!

What is particulate matter 10?

From what I’ve seen, particulate matter 10 (PM10) is written about a lot less than PM2.5. I’m not sure why this is, but it likely contributes to why I was 100% clueless about this thing. PM2.5, however, is a “subset of PM10”1, so this is perhaps because we are looking at a more specific type of particulate matter when we discuss PM2.5 over PM10.

As such, PM10 particles include all of the types of particles we discussed in the article on PM2.5. This includes fumes, fuels and smoke, to name a few, but also more! 

The Environment Protection Authority of Victoria, Australia, notes sources of PM10 to include sea salt, pollen, and “combustion activities such as motor [vehicle] and industrial processes,” as common sources of PM10 particles, as well as “dust from unsealed roads” a major source.2

PM10 and health

High levels of PM10 can irritate the eyes and throat.2 Like PM2.5, increased symptoms can occur when exposed to PM10 if you have asthma or other lung diseases. If you have heart disease, PM10 can also exacerbate these symptoms.2 There is also research linking PM10 exposure to some types of cancer3. Given the chemical compounds of PM2.5 being a part of this research, this makes sense when we consider cigarette smoking.

What can be done about PM10?

As much as possible, I will try to focus this section around PM10 specifically. 

In an article on long-term exposure to PM10, “the need for emission reduction policies to preserve human health from exposure to air pollutants in urban areas [is suggested] […] such as blocking traffic.”4 Similarly, common knowledge about avoiding exercise on poor air quality days can translate here, with consideration to avoid exercise in areas of high vehicle traffic or high industrial emissions.

Encouraging on a larger scale use of low-emission vehicles (electric or hydrogen-powered), can also be considered.3 On days with poor air quality, staying indoors is recommended as long as indoor air quality is better than that of the outdoor environment.4

Most recommendations for reducing PM10 exposure are at the government level surrounding emissions control policy. Additional pertinent information can be found in the article on PM2.5. Some studies document steps individuals can take to reduce PM10 exposure, but limited evidence exists to support these interventions.4

Is PM10 causing you problems?

Keeping asthma and other respiratory or cardiovascular diseases under good control is one way to reduce risks from PM10.4 I realize this sounds like a cyclic conundrum!

It may be difficult to discern whether PM10 or PM2.5 are causing you problems. The reality is, given the similarity of their sources and the overlap between the two, the cause of air pollution is unlikely to matter. It is more important to consider your exposure to the sources and what you might do to minimize your risk.

Disclosure: This post contains information stemming from my experiences with the Atmotube PRO personal air quality monitor. While this article is not a review of the product, out of an abundance of caution I choose to note that Atmotube sent me a device to use, for free, at my request to write about separate to Asthma.net, with no other strings attached.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Asthma.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

  1. Environmental Protection Agency. Report on the environment: Particulate matter emissions. Environmental Protection Agency; 2018. https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2014-05/documents/huff-particle.pdf. Accessed October 30, 2019.
  2. PM10 particles in air: Environment Protection Authority Victoria: EPA Victoria. Air. https://www.epa.vic.gov.au/your-environment/air/air-pollution/pm10-particles-in-air. Published December 20, 2016. Accessed October 30, 2019.
  3. De Donno A, De Giorgi M, Bagordo F, et al. Health risk associated with exposure to PM10 and benzene in three Italian towns. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2018; 15(8):1672.
  4. Laumbach R, Meng Q, Kipen H. What can individuals do to reduce personal health risks from air pollution?. J Thorac Dis. 2015;7(1):96–107. doi: 10.3978/j.issn.2072-1439.2014.12.21.

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