Airborne Particulate Matter:
Chemical Components and Their Biologic Effects

Particulate Matter

Component Major Subcomponents Biologic Effects
Inorganic Compounds Iron, vanadium, nickel, copper, platinum, siliceous materials, and others Can trigger inflammation, cause DNA damage, and alter cell permeability by inducing production of reactive oxygen species
Organic Compounds Many are absorbed onto particles; some volatile or semi-volatile organic species form particles themselves Some may cause mutations, some may cause cancer; others can act as irritants and can induce allergic reactions
Biologic Origin Viruses, bacteria, and their endotoxins (lipo-polysaccharides), animal and plant debris (such as pollen) and fungal spores Plant pollens can trigger allergic responses in the airways of sensitive individuals; viruses and bacteria can provoke immune defense responses in the airways
Ions Sulfate, nitrate, and acidity (H+) Sulfuric acid, at relatively high concentrations, can impair mucociliary clearance and increase airway resistance in people with asthma; acidity may change the solubility and availability of metals and other compounds adsorbed onto particles
Reactive Gases Ozone, peroxides, aldehydes May adsorb onto particles and be transported into lower airways, causing irritation and injury to tissues
Particle Core Carbonaceous material Carbon induces lung irritation, epithelial cell proliferation, and fibrosis after long-term exposure

(Health Effects Institute, April 2002)

Particulate Matter Research: Progress and Next Steps

Updated Tuesday, May 21, 2013 at 02:04PM