Particulate Matter: All you need to Know

Highest Annual Average Levels of Particulate Matter have increased by 17% in India within the last decade.

What is Particulate Matter?


Particulate Matter are usually referred to as the sum of or mixture of solid and liquid particles suspended in the earth’s atmosphere. These particles can be both organic and inorganic. 

Particulate Matter have the ability to negatively impact the biosphere, climate and several ecosystems on the planet. Particulate Matter are one of the most common air pollutants because of its potential to infiltrate the pulmonary systems and blood streams causing damage of the permanent or fatal nature.

They are introduced within the atmosphere by natural and man-made causes.

The constitution, size and origin of these particulate matter may vary vastly.

Most commonly, particulate matter are divided into two groups based on their size:

  • PM2.5
    • Particulate Matter that are generally 2.5 micrometers and smaller.
    • Usually found in smoke, haze, etc.
  • PM10
    • Particulate Matter that are generally 10 micrometers and smaller.
    • Usually found near mechanical industries, roadways, construction sites, etc. 

Sources and Causes

  • Earlier, certain natural phenomenon were the only sources from which particulate matter would enter the atmosphere.
  • Nowadays, several human activities have become the leading causes from which particulate matter enters the atmosphere. Some of these are listed below.

Natural Sources

  • Volcanoes – Volcanic eruptions are responsible for ejecting large quantities of particulates such as volcanic ash, carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, etc. into the atmosphere
  • Dust Storms – Gusty winds pick up large quantities for particulates, dust clouds, sand particles and disperse them into atmosphere. Gusty winds and storms can be credited for altering the concentrations of these particles in different areas.
  • Forest Fires – Forest Fires or Wild Fires are the result of burning trees, grasses and vegetation that releases enormous amounts of smoke in the atmosphere. This smoke may comprise of ash, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide, etc.
  • Tornadoes & Hurricanes – Similar to dust storms, tornadoes and hurricanes are responsible in picking up stationary particulates, pollutants and fine matter and depositing them in a locality increasing the concentrations for that area.

Man Made Causes

  • Deforestation – Activities related to deforestation release a lot of particles into the atmosphere. Large quantities of saw dust also enters the atmosphere due to these activities.
  • Fossil Fuel Extraction – The processes involving extracting fossil fuels from the natural resources involves several activities that releases several airborne pollutants and particles into the atmosphere. These activities exponentially increase the concentration of several particulates within the atmosphere to hazardous levels.
  • Fossil Fuel Consumption – Fossil fuels are used in almost all human activities for the purposes of generation of power. The consumption of fossil fuels directly releases pollutants such as carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, etc.
  • Construction & Demolition – The infrastructure industry contributes heavily in the introduction of particulates and pollutants. Several activities in construction and demolition generate huge quantities of fine particles from several types of sources and materials such as cement, wood, plastics, ceramics etc. Additionally, massive dust particles are released into the atmosphere due to this industry and its activities.
  • Power Plants – Similar to the consumption of fossil fuels, most conventional power plants generate hazardous quantities of particulates and air borne pollutants.
  • Industrial Activities – Industrial activities add a variety of complex particulates and pollutants in the atmosphere which can generate either directly or indirectly due to the operations being carried out by the respective industries.
  • Tobacco Smoke – With several lakhs smokers present globally, several toxic particles are released within the urban ecosystems adding up to the already concentrated level of pollutants.

Effects of Particulate Matter

Excessive concentrations of Particulate Matter in the atmosphere has devastating impact on the complete biosphere. Abnormal and high concentrations of Particulate Matters directly effects the environment by accelerating climatic changes and negative effects the health of all the living organisms (plants, animals and humans)

Particulate Matter by Team GreenSutra - India

Climatic Effects

  • Poor AQI – Increased concentrations of particulates within the atmosphere, result in poor AQI (Air Quality Index).
  • Air Pollution – Above average concentrations of particles and particulates in the atmosphere leads to severe air pollution.
  • Weather Impacts – Poor air quality and air pollution together can impact the weather negatively. Some common observations includes, change in rainfall patterns, increased urban heat island effects, global warming, etc.
  • Acid Rains – With increased pollutants and particles in the atmosphere, the quality of rain reduces. When concentration levels of these particulates and pollutants are high, the rain mixes with them and can result in acid rains too.

Health Effects

  • Pulmonary Ailments – Fine particulates can penetrate almost all pulmonary systems unaltered and can attach the systems from the inside. This may result in discomfort and bronchial diseases.
  • Cardiovascular Diseases – Similar to pulmonary ailments, introduction of fine particulates in the cardiovascular systems may result in narrowing of arteries and veins. This may further lead to arrested flow and stressed cardiovascular functioning leading to several cardiovascular diseases.
  • Premature Deaths – Higher number of premature deaths have been recorded in localities showcasing higher concentrations of particulate matters.
  • Cancer – Unfiltered inhalation of particulates is directly associated with increased counts of cancerous growths within the human body.
  • Plant Mortalities – Particulates can easily block or clog stomatal openings in the local flora leading to failure in the process of photosynthesis.
Particulate Matter: All you need to Know
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Particulate Matter: All you need to Know
Particulate matter or particle pollution are microscopic solid or liquid particles which are suspended in the atmosphere.
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Team GreenSutra®
Team GreenSutra®

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