Particulate matter, also known as particle pollution or PM, is a term that describes extremely small solid particles and liquid droplets suspended in air. Particulate matter can be made up of a variety of components including nitrates, sulfates, organic chemicals, metals, soil or dust particles, and allergens (such as fragments of pollen or mould spores). Particle pollution mainly comes from motor vehicles, wood burning heaters and industry. During bushfires or dust storms, particle pollution can reach extremely high concentrations
The size of particles affects their potential to cause health problems:
Potential health effects from exposure to particulate matter:There are many health effects from exposure to particulate matter. Numerous studies have showed associations between exposure to particles and increased hospital admissions as well as death from heart or lung diseases. Despite extensive epidemiological research, there is currently no evidence of a threshold below which exposure to particulate matter does not cause any health effects. Health effects can occur after both short and long-term exposure to particulate matter.
Short-term and long-term exposure is thought to have different mechanisms of effect. Short-term exposure appears to exacerbate pre-existing diseases while long-term exposure most likely causes disease and increases the rate of progression.
To learn more, visit our section ‘Who is affected by air pollution’ and ‘Simple steps to protect your health’. For further information on wood-burning heaters, bushfire smoke and dust storms please see our section on air quality factsheets. To learn more about the air quality index, please see our section on air quality index.