Industry Intel

What is PM2.5 and PM10?

Laurence Burch

Team Leader | Environmental Health

Aug 03, 2023

The Invisible Threat: Understanding Particle Pollution and its Implications on Air Quality

In recent years, the quality of the air we breathe has become a growing concern. One of the most significant issues affecting air quality is particle pollution, commonly referred to as particulate matter (PM).

Recent findings have revealed how air pollution has increased by staggering levels in some tube stations, with Stockwell on the Victoria Line measuring 639 micrograms of PM2.5 particle pollution per square metre. But what do terms, such as PM2.5, mean? And what is the impact of poor air quality on our health?

What is Particle Pollution (Particulate Matter)?

Particulate matter, refers to a complex mixture of solid and liquid particles suspended in the air we breathe. These particles can vary in size and shape. They originate from various sources, both natural and human-made. Natural sources include volcanic eruptions, dust storms, and wildfires, while human-made sources include vehicle emissions, industrial activities, construction, and burning of fossil fuels.

Understanding PM2.5: Size Matters

Particulate matter is classified based on its aerodynamic diameter. One of the most concerning categories is PM2.5, which stands for "particulate matter 2.5 micrometers or smaller." To put this into perspective, a human hair is about 50-70 micrometers in diameter, making PM2.5 particles 20 to 30 times smaller than the width of a hair. Due to their tiny size, PM2.5 particles can penetrate deep into the respiratory system and even enter the bloodstream, posing severe health risks.

Health Implications of Particle Pollution:

Inhalation of particle pollution, especially PM2.5, has been linked to a number of health problems, particularly the vulnerable such as children, the elderly, and those with pre-existing respiratory or cardiovascular conditions. Short-term exposure to high levels of PM2.5 can lead to irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat. It can also cause difficulty breathing, cause coughing and exacerbate existing respiratory conditions like asthma.

Long-term exposure to high levels of PM2.5 has been associated with more severe consequences, including an increased risk of heart attacks, strokes, lung cancer and premature death. In heavily polluted areas, the life expectancy of residents can be notably reduced due to the cumulative effects of prolonged exposure to particle pollution.

Air Quality in Tube Stations: A Special Concern

Tube stations and tunnels, are vital for transportation in many major cities and they cater to millions of commuters daily. However, the underground environment poses unique challenges to air quality. The lack of natural ventilation, combined with the number of commuters, leads to elevated levels of airborne particulate matter, including PM2.5.

Studies have shown that the concentrations of PM2.5 can be significantly higher in tube stations compared to above-ground areas. The sources of particle pollution in these enclosed spaces include not only outdoor air pollutants but also wear and tear of brakes and rails, dust from the movement of trains, and even particles generated by passengers themselves.

Mitigating the Risks: Steps Towards Cleaner Air

There are a number of ways that the government and local authorities can combat the negative effects of particle pollution on air quality, both on the streets and in enclosed spaces like tube stations. Some of these include:

  1. Improving Public Transportation: Shifting to electric or low-emission trains and buses can help reduce particle emissions from transportation sources.
  2. Regulating Industrial Emissions: Implementing strict regulations on industrial activities can curb particle pollution from factories and power plants.
  3. Promoting Active Transportation: Encouraging walking and cycling can lead to reduced traffic congestion and subsequently lower emissions.
  4. Air Filtration Systems: Installing effective air filtration systems in tube stations can help reduce indoor particle concentrations and protect commuters' health.
  5. Raising Awareness: Educating the public about the health risks of particle pollution and its sources can foster a collective commitment to air quality improvement.

Particle pollution, particularly PM2.5, remains a significant threat to public health and air quality. Understanding its sources and potential consequences is crucial for enacting effective measures to combat this invisible danger. By implementing cleaner technologies, promoting sustainable transportation, and improving air quality in public spaces like tube stations, we can take significant steps towards ensuring cleaner and healthier air for everyone.

Share this article

Team Leader | Environmental Health

Laurence Burch

Laurence’s years at Oyster have been characterised by his easy-going, light-hearted, sociable approach. Laurence always takes accountability for his deadlines and targets and doesn’t make excuses. He’s always honest with both his candidates and clients.

More from our blog