Fine Particulate Matter Testing

Throughout the day we are exposed to several chemicals, pathogens, and contaminants that can be harmful in case of both short- and long-term exposure. In most cases, exposure to harmful substances can present mild reactions that give indications of contamination in the environment. However, several substances are present in the environment and go by undetected until the cumulative effect leads to the onset of more concerning diseases such as cancer. In this sense, particulate matter is a group of contaminants that are not always noticed due to their small size but should be considered in indoor air quality assessment.

What is Particulate Matter?

Particulate matter is formed by both natural and anthropological activities and represents the release of small particles from wear and tear activities as well as natural decomposition of materials. Particulate matter is released from your own body as parts of skin, hair, and nails. Moreover, particulate matter can be naturally released from pets, plants and other forms of living creatures present in the environment. Additionally, particulate matter can be detached from wood, dust and other forms of natural structures through the process of natural decomposition. Finally, particulate matter can be formed with anthropological and industrial activity releasing massive amounts of small particles in the atmosphere that prevail in a suspended state in the air.

Thus, particulate matter can be considered organic, inorganic and biological varying in composition and size. The larger particles are normally considered dirt, smoke, and dust and can be visible to the naked eye. Smaller particles are divided into coarse particles (2.5 – 10 µm diameter) and fine particles (smaller than 2.5 µm diameter) of which the latter is more concerning. Fine particles are so small they can enter the human body and transport itself to the lungs and other organs through the blood circulation of the body.

Where can I find fine particulate matter in my environment?

Fine particulate matters indoors are mostly associated with incomplete combustion processes and by such are found mostly in stoves, heaters, fireplaces, and chimneys. They can also be released in the form of vapors during cooking processes and special attention to cooking practices is recommended. Additionally, fine particulate matter can be produced by indoor tobacco smoking, forced air conditioning, furniture, and wood-burning stoves. Moreover, certain activities indoors might generate or disperse fine particulate matter indoors such as vacuuming and dusting, incense and candle burning, grills, environment renovation, humidifiers, showers and boiling water.

Outside sources can also affect the concentration of fine particulate matter indoors transporting itself from trucks, off-road vehicles, other fuel-burning activities, and grass fires. Due to their lightweight, particulate matter can be transported through large distances and be found spread-out from its natural source. In this case, special attention should be taken when considering areas that might be affected by natural disasters such as fires, volcanoes and other, which might transport fine particulate matter to your environment.

How can I test the presence of particulate matter in my environment?

The presence of fine particulate matter in the house is a natural occurrence and essentially unavoidable. Throughout the day we are exposed to several different sources and concentrations of fine particulate matter that go by mostly undetected. Overall, fine particulate matter will be inhaled in our body without major immediate consequences. Cases of irritation in eyes, skin, and nose are reported for sensitive individuals but in most cases, exposure happens for long periods without any evidence. However, long-term exposure can generate a series of health consequences that makes it fundamental to identify particulate contamination even in low concentrations.

To detect these molecules that are typically invisible to the human eye, odorless and colorless it is important to resource to specific equipment like microscopes and particle detectors which depend on a specialized team to operate them. Therefore, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) has presented a list of guidelines for measuring the fine particulate matter (PM2.5). Meanwhile, the area of Singapore complies with the Singapore Standards SS554:2009/2016, which represents an adaptation of the USEPA norms. In sum, these regulations point out sampling, analysis and estimation techniques that help to properly identify sources and contamination levels throughout the household.

What are the health effects of indoor particulate matter?

Fine particles are known for presenting very small sizes, that allow for them to enter the body and reach the lungs being fixated in the lung’s walls triggering a series of side effects. Exposure to small amounts of fine particles can lead to irritation of the eye, nose, and throat, although these are less common and restricted to more sensitive individuals (children, elderly and allergic individuals). On the other hand, even short-term exposure to fine particles can lead to aggravation of asthma and chronic bronchitis as these particles rapidly affect the respiratory system.

Long-term exposure or exposure to increasing amounts of fine particles matter can lead to myocardial infarction, arrhythmia, stroke, and sudden cardiac death. Moreover, since fine particle matters can be transported inside blood veins, they are capable of damaging the cardiorespiratory system causing increased blood pressure, acute coronary syndrome, atherosclerosis, cardiovascular disease mortality, among others.

How can IAQ Help?

IAQ has been focused on improving the overall indoor air quality of your house for over 10 years counting with a team of highly qualified professionals capable of identifying, estimating the level and proposing a solution for fine particulate matter contamination. In this sense, IAQ is capable of performing a preliminary analysis of the household sampling the different areas that might be presenting contaminations peaks throughout the house.

Furthermore, by carrying out specialized analysis using microscopes and different sensors, IAQ is able to develop proper analysis in a technical lab determining the sources and types of contamination found in your environment. The wide range of different fine particulate matter sources alongside with the health risk they represent make fine particulate matter contamination one of the main focuses of IAQ as they strive to ensure a healthy and safe indoor air quality for you and your family.

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