Outdoor Air Quality - RISC

Outdoor Air Quality

PM 2.5

December 05, 2021

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PM 2.5 (µg/m³)

Updated on :
Average 24-hour Retrospective

About the Air Pollution Measurement

WHAT is PM ?

Credit : Environmental Protection Agency, United States of America

PM stands for particulate matter (also called particle pollution): the term for a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets found in the air. Some particles, such as dust, dirt, soot, or smoke, are large or dark enough to be seen with the naked eye.

Particle pollution includes

PM 10 (µg/m 3 )

Particulate matter less than 10 micrometers (μm) – or 0.01 mm – in diameter

PM 2.5 (µg/m 3 )

Fine particulates less than 2.5 micrometers (μm) in diameter

How small are particulates?

The average human hair is about 70 μm in diameter, which is 30 times larger than the largest fine particle.

Size comparisons for PM particles (EPA. 2019)
Credit : https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-09/pm2.5_scale_graphic-color_2.jpg

Where does PM come from?

1. Emissions from cars and other vehicles
2. Burning of fuels and natural materials
3. Reactions of gases or droplets in the atmosphere
4. Particles carried by the wind from various sources
5. Natural events such as wildfires or volcanic eruptions
6. Smoking
7. Cooking
8. Burning items such as candles
9. Fireplaces and fuel-burning space heaters

Effects of PM

Particulates affect our health and bodies when we breathe. They can get deep into our lungs and even enter our bloodstream. The smaller they are, the more dangerous for our health. Children, older adults, and people with heart or lung diseases are most at risk from particle pollution. Studies show that exposure to particulates can cause health issues such as:

Premature death in people with heart or lung disease
Non-fatal heart attacks
Respiratory diseases and mortality
Cardiopulmonary diseases
Fatal lung cancers
Asthma, influenza, and acute respiratory tract infection

Health Effects (Environment Assured. 2019)
Credit : https://www.environment-assured.com/pm25/

The table below defines the particulate matter scale as defined by the US-EPA 2016 standard

DISPLAY PM 2.5 (µg/m 3 , 24-hour average) PM 10 (µg/m 3 , 24-hour average) HEALTH IMPLICATIONS
0.0 - 12.0 0 - 54 Air quality is considered satisfactory, and air pollution poses little or no risk
12.1 - 35.4 55 - 154 Air quality is acceptable; however, for some pollutants there may be a moderate health concern for a very small number of people who are unusually sensitive to air pollution.
Unhealthy for Sensitive group
35.5 - 55.4 155 - 254 Members of sensitive groups may experience health effects. The general public is not likely to be affected.
55.5 - 150.4 255 - 354 Everyone may begin to experience health effects; members of sensitive groups may experience more serious health effects
Very Unhealth
150.5 - 250.4 355 - 424 Health warnings of emergency conditions. The entire populations is more likely to be affected.
250.5 - 500 425 - 605 Health alert: everyone may experience more serious health effects

1. Air Quality Life Index. (2019). How Does Particulate Air Pollution Impact Health, Retrieved from https://aqli.epic.uchicago.edu/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Size-Health-Diagram-1024x543.jpg

2. United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2019). Air Quality Index Scale and Color Legend, Retrieved from https://aqicn.org/scale/

3. United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2018). Particulate Matter (PM) Basics, Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/pm-pollution/particulate-matter-pm-basics#PM

4. United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2018). Particulate Matter (PM) Basics, Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/pm-pollution/health-and-environmental-effects-particulate-matter-pm

5. United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2018). Particulate Matter (PM) Basics, Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/pm-pollution/health-and-environmental-effects-particulate-matter-pm

6. United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2018). Size comparisons for PM particles, https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-09/pm2.5_scale_graphic-color_2.jpg

8. United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2016). Revised Air Quality Standards for particle pollution and updates to the air quality index (AQI), Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-04/documents/2012_aqi_factsheet.pdf

9. United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2016). AQI Technical Assistance Document, Retrieved from https://www3.epa.gov/airnow/aqi-technical-assistance-document-may2016.pdf

10. National Pollutant Inventory. (2019). Total Volatile Organic Compounds, Retrieved from http://www.npi.gov.au/resource/total-volatile-organic-compounds

11. U.S. Green Building Council. (2015). Maximum concentration levels, by contaminant and testing, Retrieved from https://www.usgbc.org/resources/table-1-maximum-concentration-levels-contaminant-and-testing


Total volatile organic compounds (TVOCs) are a wide range of organic chemical compounds that easily become vapor or gas. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are harmful materials from solids and liquids.

Where do VOCs come from?

Building materials and furnishings
Wood preservatives
Cleansers and disinfectants
Stored fuels and automotive products
Office equipment such as printers or copiers

How do VOCs affect our health?

The health impact from VOCs depends on their composition and concentration and the length of exposure. General effects include:

Irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat
Damage to the liver, kidneys, and central nervous system
Fatigue and dizziness

The table below defines TVOC level defined by the by the US-EPA standard

Normal < 500 ppm

1. United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2019). Overview of Greenhouse Gases. Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/overview-greenhouse-gases

2. Ritchie, Hannah; & Roser, Max. (2019). Overview of Greenhouse Gases. Retrieved from https://ourworldindata.org/co2-and-other-greenhouse-gas-emissions

3. Our World in Data. (2019). Global CO₂ atmospheric concentration. Retrieved from https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/global-co-concentration-ppm

4. Kane. (2019). What are safe levels of CO and CO2 in rooms? Retrieved from https://www.kane.co.uk/knowledge-centre/what-are-safe-levels-of-co-and-co2-in-rooms

5. OnSolution. (2019).Levels of CO2 in closed spaces and the potential health effects that they may cause. Retrieved from https://www.co2monitor.com.au/

Carbon dioxide and climate change

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a naturally occurring molecule of carbon and oxygen produced by both natural and human processes. Burning anything, whether fossil fuels, waste, trees, or other biological materials, can release more CO2into the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is important to our world. It helps keep the earth at a habitable temperature. But it is also a greenhouse gas (GHG) that can heat up the planet. Burning fossil fuels produces CO2emissions that can change the climate, with huge impacts on ecosystems.

Global atmospheric concentrations

Global average long-term atmospheric levels of CO₂ are increasing.

Credit : https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/global-co-concentration-ppm

Since the Industrial Revolution, global CO2 concentrations have risen fast. This vast increase has an impact on our environment. It affects temperatures and causes many issues such as global warming. Heat gets trapped inside the blanket of greenhouse gases and the earth grows warmer. A stronger greenhouse effect will warm the oceans, melt glaciers, and raise sea levels. Warmer climates can also bring heatwaves, violent rainfall, and storms.

Environmental effects:

Global warming
Heat waves
Air pollution from rising temperatures
Hurricanes and fires
Ocean acidification

Indoor air quality

Indoor CO2 levels depend on human metabolism and breathing. We gradually emit CO2 that can raise the concentration. Without enough ventilation, excessive indoor CO2 can affect human health, causing headaches, drowsiness, exhaustion, and breathing problems, according to the table below.

Healthy level:

Levels of CO 2(ppm) Health Effects
350 - 450 The general level of health outdoor
450 - 700 Acceptable range
700 - 1000 Feeling uncomfortable
1000 - 2500 Feeling sleepy and poor air
2500 - 5000 Headaches, sleepiness and stagnant, stale, stuffy air, poor concentration, loss of attention, increased heart rate and slight nausea may also be present
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