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Particulate Matter (PM) Effects

Populations at general risk for suffering adverse health effects from exposures to particulate matter include children, people of all ages with asthma, and the elderly with illnesses like bronchitis, emphysema and pneumonia.  Patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, such as emphysema and bronchitis, are also potentially susceptible to mortality because of their vulnerability to physical and chemical stimuli and the absence of an adequate ventilatory reserve.

PM10 can be inhaled through the upper respiratory airways, and deposited in the lungs causing serious health problems and the increased likelihood of death from other causes.  Some of the particles that measure less than 10 microns can penetrate and deposit deeply in the lungs without an ability to be exhaled.  This smaller fraction, commonly referred to as PM2.5, is of special concern to health.  These particles are based on the fraction of PM10 that measures at less than 2.5 microns in diameter.  These finer particles are easily inhaled deeply into the lungs where they can be absorbed into the bloodstream or remain embedded for long periods of time. Finer particles may be aerosol carriers of toxic and biological materials, which can be absorbed by the blood in the gas exchange tissues of the lungs and carried to other parts of the body. 

Effects on the Environment

The fine particles that are linked to serious health effects are also a major cause of visibility impairment (regional haze) in many national parks.  The term regional haze means haze that impairs visibility in all directions over a large area.  Regional haze consists of sufficient smoke, dust, moisture, and vapor suspended in air to impair visibility.  Particulate matter that is formed when gaseous pollutants react in the atmosphere also causes regional haze.  These particles often grow in size as humidity increases, further impairing visibility.  Sources hundreds or even thousands of miles away can contribute to visibility problems at remote locations.  In the west, the visual range has been reduced to over 60 percent.  Haze currently reduces visibility from approximately 140 miles to between 33 and 90 miles.  

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