According to studies by the World Health Organization (WHO), air polluted with particulate matter reduces average life expectancy in Germany by ten months. Of all air pollutants, the small and smallest particles have the greatest impact on our health. The highest levels of particulate pollution are found in cities. This is why we are seeing an increasing number of environmental zones being established in cities, which may only be entered with an appropriate emissions sticker.
The inhalation of fine particulate matter has a three-stage negative impact on our health:
1. Hazardous substances, such as heavy metals and carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, can attach themselves to the surface of fine and tiny particulates.
2. Due to their small size, particulates are a danger in themselves. When inhaled, particles smaller than about 2 microns reach into the lower respiratory tract, are excreted in the lungs and cannot be exhaled again. In this way they become actual deposits. These so-called ‘respirable’ particles are particularly harmful to health. The problem is that particles of this size can only to a limited extent be captured by the mucous membranes in the nose and throat or by the nose hairs.
3. Ultrafine particles (smaller than 0.1 microns) can be transferred via air sacs into the blood stream and thus spread by the blood throughout the body.
Conclusion: particulate matter is harmful to health. This is true as much for increased concentrations over a short period of time as for low level exposure over a longer period. For this reason, we should aim to minimize particulate pollution exposure at all times.