What is particulate matter?
PM is a widespread air pollutant, consisting of a mixture of solid and liquid particles suspended in the air.
Commonly used indicators describing PM that are relevant to health refer to the mass concentration of particles with a diameter of less than 10 µm (PM10) and of particles with a diameter of less than 2.5 µm (PM2.5). PM2.5, often called fine PM, also comprises ultrafine particles having a diameter of less than 0.1 µm. In most locations in Europe, PM2.5 constitutes 50–70% of PM10.
PM between 0.1 µm and 1 µm in diameter can remain in the atmosphere for days or weeks and thus be subject to long-range transboundary transport in the air.
Primary PM and the precursor gases can have both man-made (anthropogenic) and natural (non-anthropogenic) sources.
Anthropogenic sources include combustion engines (both diesel and petrol), solid-fuel (coal, lignite, heavy oil and biomass) combustion for energy production in households and industry, other industrial activities (building, mining, manufacture of cement, ceramic and bricks, and smelting), and erosion of the pavement by road traffic and abrasion of brakes and tyres. Agriculture is the main source of ammonium.
Secondary particles are formed in the air through chemical reactions of gaseous pollutants. They are products of atmospheric transformation of nitrogen oxides (mainly emitted by traffic and some industrial processes) and sulfur dioxide resulting from the combustion of sulfur-containing fuels. Secondary particles are mostly found in fine PM.