Particle Pollution Persists Year-Round

We’re still a few months away from the start of Smog Season in Georgia, the period from May through September when ground-level ozone is most likely to form. But there’s another lingering air pollution issue that affects our health year-round. Concentrations of fine particulate matter, known more broadly as “particle pollution,” are present in the air we breathe.

If you’ve ever been within sight of a smokestack or a tailpipe, you’ve no doubt seen that black plume of smoke spring forth and then dissipate. The process of combustion (burning something, whether it be gasoline, wood, coal, etc) produces small airborne fragments of dust, soot and chemicals – so small that they are invisible to the naked eye. Particle pollution can also occur in nature: think pollen in the springtime.

Fine particulate matter is so miniscule, it’s a mere fraction of the diameter of a human hair. At 2.5 micrometers in diameter, this visual (courtesy of the US Environmental Protection Agency) puts into perspective just how small particle pollution can be:

When these pollutants are present in high concentrations, what can they do to your health? For one, particle pollution can penetrate deep into your lungs, slipping past the body’s defenses and making it hard to breathe. This can trigger asthma attacks or even create situations where emergency medical attention is needed. Particle pollution can also irritate the eyes, nose and throat.

There are ways to curb particle pollution emissions. Coal-fired power plants are adding “scrubbers” at facilities to act as giant pipe cleaners that can reduce overall particle pollution output. Certain counties enact open burning bans that prohibit citizens from burning yard waste. Catalytic converters on buses, trucks, cars and vans help reduce output. And of course driving less helps, too.

But the big-picture challenge is to reduce energy consumption in a state that is among the nation’s fastest growing. How do we motivate people to change their habits when we’re talking about a problem that is invisible to the naked eye?


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