Particulate Matter - Health Impacts

There are anecdotal and some peer reviewed studies suggesting more respiratory problems in Alaska 's villages than expected. The causes for this are varied and hard to pinpoint. On the other hand, Alaska is committed to reducing pollutant levels when possible. The opportunity to reduce particulate matter levels is now upon us.

Coarse and fine particulate cause health problems when people are exposed to harmful concentrations. Fine particulate (PM2.5) is associated with more severe health consequences than coarse particulate (PM10). In addition, particulate matter is a nuisance, especially dust. Particulates can settle on furniture, a coffee cup, or subsistence foods, making food inedible, and damaging electronics. Controlling particulate matter will benefit our health and enhance our quality of life.

PM10 - Coarse Particulate (Dust)
course particulate - image of dusty road  

EPA health research tells us that dust, measured as PM10, can cause health problems. People with heart disease, those with existing breathing problems (like asthma), children and the elderly are more susceptible to dust than others. These problems include:

  • short term airway irritation;
  • aggravation of existing heart disease;
  • aggravation of existing lung disease (like asthma); and
  • damage to lung tissue
    PM2.5 - Fine particulate (Smoke / Exhaust)

    Numerous scientific studies have linked fine particle pollution exposure to a variety of problems, including:

  • increased respiratory symptoms, such as irritation of the airways, coughing, or difficulty breathing;
  • decreased lung function;
  • aggravated asthma;
  • development of chronic bronchitis;
  • irregular heartbeat;
  • nonfatal heart attacks; and
  • premature death in people with heart or lung disease
  • fine partiiculate - image of wildland fire smoke and road
    Photo by D. Haggstrom, ADF&G
    The links below further detail particulate matter and its affect on human health:
  • EPA - Particulate Matter, Health and the Environment
  • EPA brochure - Particle Pollution and Your Health (PDF)
  • EPA - How Smoke from Fires can Affect Your Health
  • State of Alaska Epidemiology Bulletin: Association between Air Quality and Hospital Visits--Fairbanks, 2003 - 2008 (PDF)