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Particulate MatterParticulate Matter

The Basics

We’ve all seen dirty bathrooms with black mold growing on its surfaces, or cars covered in a yellow blanket of pollen in the spring. These are visible sources of particulate matter, or PM for short.

PM is made up of tiny particles and liquid droplets that include:

  • Chemicals
  • Metals
  • Dust
  • Mold spores (spores are similar to tiny seeds you can’t see)

PM can be found floating in the air we breathe — both indoors and outdoors.

Where does PM come from?

PM gets into the air by human activities such as cooking food on a charcoal or gas grill, or burning fossil fuels in a power plant.

How can PM affect my health?

Breathing in these particles can cause health problems. The smaller ones can affect people directly by getting into the lungs and bloodstream. Many particles can trigger asthma and allergic reactions. Larger particles may cause irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat.


Did you know ?

Even burning candles can create PM!

Learn More

Explore the links below to learn more about PM, including how it can affect your health — and what you can do to protect yourself.

Read About It Read About It

Air Quality Facts (American Lung Association)

Causes of Poor Visibility (CAMNET) - Information about particles that affect visibility and the type of hazes formed from air pollutants.

Particle Pollution and Your Health (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) - FAQs about airborne particles: what they are, risks, symptoms, and the importance of the Air Quality Index.

Particulate Matter (Tox Town - National Library of Medicine) - Information on particulate matter and links to where it is found.

Particulate Matter (Oklahoma Department on Environmental Quality) - PDF fact sheet on particulate matter.

Games and Activities Games and Activities

Lung Attack - test (Pima County, Department of Environmental Quality) - Interactive presentation of how lungs work and how types of air pollution, including ozone, big particles, and small particles, can affect them.

Videos Videos

Something in the Air: Particulate Matter and Your Health (National Library of Medicine) - Agents Aeon and Amethyst investigate toxic effects of Hawthorne Hipster’s unusual bonfire. An animation about particulate matter, where it is found, and its effects on human health.

Particle Pollution (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) - Interactive website/video on particle pollution.

Experiments and Projects Experiments and Projects

So What's Making it Look Brown Outside? (PDF, 59.30 KB)(University of Arizona) - PDF activity on collecting and measuring particulate matter.

For Teachers For Teachers

Be Particular About Your Matter! (PDF, 47.59 KB)(University of Northern Iowa) - Students collect and observe particulate matter, interpret data on environmental maps, and understand the health effects associated with this form of pollution.

Air Pollution: What's the Solution? (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) - A teacher's guide to teaching air pollution that includes curriculum standards, assessments, and lesson rubrics.

Sources of Particulate Matter (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) - Information and activity on interpreting graphs to determine particulate matter emissions.