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Particulates, alternatively referred to as particulate matter (PM), aerosols or fine particles, are tiny particles of solid or liquid suspended in a gas. Sources of particulate matter can be man made or natural. Some particulates occur naturally, originating from volcanoes, dust storms, forest and grassland fires, living vegetation, and sea spray. Human activities, such as the burning of fossil fuels in vehicles, power plants and various industrial processes also generate significant amounts of aerosols. Averaged over the globe, anthropogenic aerosols—those made by human activities—currently account for about 10 percent of the total amount of aerosols in our atmosphere. Increased levels of fine particles in the air are linked to health hazards such as heart disease, altered lung function and lung cancer.
Among the most common categorizations imposed on particulates are those with respect to size, referred to as fractions. PM diameters range from less than 10 nanometres to more than 100 micrometres. These dimensions represent the continuum from a few molecules up to the size where particles can no longer be carried by a gas.
The notation PM10 is used to describe particles of 10 micrometres or less and PM2.5 represents particles less than 2.5 micrometres in aerodynamic diameter. . These are also sometimes referred to with other equivalent numeric values. Everything below 100 nm, down to the size of individual molecules is classified as ultrafine particles (UFP or UP).
These are the formal definitions. Depending on the context, alternative definitions may be applied. In some specialized settings, each fraction may exclude the fractions of lesser scale, so that PM10 excludes particles in a smaller size range, e.g. PM2.5, usually reported separately in the same work . Such a case is sometimes emphasized with the notation PM2.5-PM10. Other exceptions may be similarly specified. This is useful when not only the upper bound of a fraction is relevant to a discussion. The facts that some particle size ranges require greater filter strength and the smallest ones can outstrip the body's ability to keep them out of cells both serve to guide understanding of related public policy, environment, and health topics.
There are both natural and human sources of atmospheric particulates. The biggest natural sources are dust, volcanoes, and forest fires. Sea spray is also a large source of particles though most of these fall back to the ocean close to where they were emitted. The biggest human sources of particles are combustion sources, mainly the burning of fuels in internal combustion engines in automobiles and power plants, and wind blown dust from construction sites and other land areas where the water or vegetation has been removed. Some of these particles are emitted directly to the atmosphere (primary emissions) and some are emitted as gases and form particles in the atmosphere (secondary emissions).
BlueTec is one technology developed to reduce particulate emissions from Diesel engines in order to meet strigent Californian standards.
The composition of aerosol particles depends on their source. Wind-blown mineral dust  tends to be made of mineral oxides and other material blown from the Earth's crust; this aerosol is light-absorbing. Sea salt  is considered the second largest contributor in the global aerosol budget, and consists mainly of sodium chloride originated from sea spray; other constituents of atmospheric sea salt reflect the composition of sea water, and thus include magnesium, sulfate, calcium, potassium, etc. In addition, sea spray aerosols may contain organic compounds, which influence their chemistry. Sea salt does not absorb.
Secondary particles derive from the oxidation of primary gases such as sulfur and nitrogen oxides into sulfuric acid (liquid) and nitric acid (gaseous). The precursors for these aerosols, i.e. the gases from which they originate, may have an anthropogenic origin (from fossil fuel combustion) and a natural biogenic origin. In the presence of ammonia, secondary aerosols often take the form of ammonium salts, i.e. ammonium sulfate and ammonium nitrate (both can be dry or in aqueous solution); in the absence of ammonia, secondary compounds take an acidic form as sulfuric acid (liquid aerosol droplets) and nitric acid (atmospheric gas). Secondary sulfate and nitrate aerosols are strong light-scatterers.  This is mainly because the presence of sulfate and nitrate causes the aerosols to increase to a size that scatters light effectively.
Organic matter (OM) can be either primary or secondary, the latter part deriving from the oxidation of VOCs; organic material in the atmosphere may either be biogenic or anthropogenic. Organic matter influences the atmospheric radiation field by both scattering and absorption. Another important aerosol type is constitude of elemental carbon (EC, also known as black carbon, BC): this aerosol type includes strongly light-absorbing material and is thought to yield large positive radiative forcing. Organic matter and elemental carbon together constitute the carbonaceous fraction of aerosols.ii 
The chemical composition of the aerosol directly affects how it interacts with solar radiation. The chemical constituents within the aerosol change the overall refractive index. The refractive index will determine how much light is scattered and absorbed.
In general, the smaller and lighter a particle is, the longer it will stay in the air. Larger particles (greater than 10 micrometers in diameter) tend to settle to the ground by gravity in a matter of hours whereas the smallest particles (less than 1 micrometer) can stay in the atmosphere for weeks and are mostly removed by precipitation.
Radiative forcing from aerosols
Aerosols, natural and anthropogenic, can affect the climate by changing the way radiation is transmitted through the atmosphere. Direct observations of the effects of aerosols are quite limited so any attempt to estimate their global effect necessarily involves the use of computer models. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, says: While the radiative forcing due to greenhouse gases may be determined to a reasonably high degree of accuracy... the uncertainties relating to aerosol radiative forcings remain large, and rely to a large extent on the estimates from global modelling studies that are difficult to verify at the present time .
A graphic showing the contributions (at 2000, relative to pre-industrial) and uncertainties of various forcings is available here.
Sulfate aerosol has two main effects, direct and indirect. The direct effect, via albedo, is to cool the planet: the IPCC's best estimate of the radiative forcing is -0.4 watts per square meter with a range of -0.2 to -0.8 W/m²  but there are substantial uncertainties. The effect varies strongly geographically, with most cooling believed to be at and downwind of major industrial centres. Modern climate models attempting to deal with the attribution of recent climate change need to include sulfate forcing, which appears to account (at least partly) for the slight drop in global temperature in the middle of the 20th century. The indirect effect (via the aerosol acting as cloud condensation nuclei, CCN, and thereby modifying the cloud properties -albedo and lifetime-) is more uncertain but is believed to be a cooling.
Black carbon (BC), or Carbon Black, or Elemental Carbon (EC), often called soot, is composed of pure carbon clusters, skeleton balls and buckyballs, and is one of the most important absorbing aerosol species in the atmosphere. It should be distinguished from Organic Carbon (OC): clustered or aggregated organic molecules on their own or permeating an EC buckyball. BC from fossil fuels is estimated by the IPCC in the Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC, TAR, to contribute a global mean radiative forcing of +0.2 W/m² (was +0.1 W/m² in the Second Assessment Report of the IPCC, SAR), with a range +0.1 to +0.4 W/m².
All aerosols both absorb and scatter solar and terrestrial radiation. If a substance absorbs a significant amount of radiation, as well as scattering, we call it absorbing. This is quantified in the Single Scattering Albedo (SSA), the ratio of scattering alone to scattering plus absorption (extinction) of radiation by a particle. The SSA tends to unity if scattering dominates, with relatively little absorption, and decreases as absorption increases, becoming zero for infinite absorption. For example, sea-salt aerosol has an SSA of 1, as a sea-salt particle only scatters, whereas soot has an SSA of 0.23, showing that it is a major atmospheric aerosol absorber.
The effects of inhaling particulate matter has been widely studied in humans and animals and include asthma, lung cancer, cardiovascular issues, and premature death. The size of the particle is a main determinant of where in the respiratory tract the particle will come to rest when inhaled. Larger particles are generally filtered in the nose and throat and do not cause problems, but particulate matter smaller than about 10 micrometres, referred to as PM10, can settle in the bronchi and lungs and cause health problems. The 10 micrometer size does not represent a strict boundary between respirable and non-respirable particles, but has been agreed upon for monitoring of airborne particulate matter by most regulatory agencies. Similarly, particles smaller than 2.5 micrometres, PM2.5, tend to penetrate into the gas-exchange regions of the lung, and very small particles (< 100 nanometers) may pass through the lungs to affect other organs. In particular, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association indicates that PM2.5 leads to high plaque deposits in arteries, causing vascular inflammation and atherosclerosis — a hardening of the arteries that reduces elasticity, which can lead to heart attacks and other cardiovascular problems . Researchers suggest that even short-term exposure at elevated concentrations could significantly contribute to heart disease.
There is also evidence that particles smaller than 100 nanometres can pass through cell membranes. For example, particles may migrate into the brain. It has been suggested that particulate matter can cause similar brain damage as that found in Alzheimer patients. Particles emitted from modern diesel engines (commonly referred to as Diesel Particulate Matter, or DPM) are typically in the size range of 100 nanometres (0.1 micrometres). In addition, these soot particles also carry carcinogenic components like benzopyrenes adsorbed on their surface. It is becoming increasingly clear that the legislative limits for engines, which are in terms of emitted mass, are not a proper measure of the health hazard. One particle of 10 µm diameter has approximately the same mass as 1 million particles of 100 nm diameter, but it is clearly much less hazardous, as it probably never enters the human body - and if it does, it is quickly removed. Proposals for new regulations exist in some countries, with suggestions to limit the particle surface area or the particle number.
The large number of deaths and other health problems associated with particulate pollution was first demonstrated in the early 1970s  and has been reproduced many times since. PM pollution is estimated to cause 22,000-52,000 deaths per year in the United States (from 2000)  and 200,000 deaths per year in Europe).
Due to the health effects of particulate matter, maximum standards have been set by various governments. Many urban areas in the U.S. and Europe still frequently violate the particulate standards, though urban air on these continents has become cleaner, on average, with respect to particulates over the last quarter of the 20th century.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets standards for PM10 and PM2.5 concentrations in urban air. (See National Ambient Air Quality Standards.) EPA regulates primary particulate emissions and precursors to secondary emissions (NOx, sulfur, and ammonia).
In directives 1999/30/EC and 96/62/EC, the European Commission has set limits for PM10 in the air:
¹ indicative value.
The most concentrated particulate matter pollution tends to be in densely populated metropolitan areas in developing countries. The primary cause is the burning of fossil fuels by transportation and industrial sources.
The field of aerosol science and technology has grown in response to the need to understand and control natural and manmade aerosols.
|This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Particulate". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.|