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  • Writer's pictureCorey Provencal

IAQ and Airborne Particulate Matter PM

Particle pollution, also called particulate matter or PM, is a complex mixture of extremely small particles and liquid droplets in the air. When breathed in, these particles can reach the deepest regions of the lungs.  Exposure to particle pollution is linked to a variety of significant health problems such as asthma.

Particulates are a mixture of organic and inorganic substances suspended in the air. They can be solids and/or liquids and exist in a range of sizes. Particulate size is measured in micrometers (µm), one millionth of a meter. The EPA refers to different groups of particulates that include:

  1. Total suspended particulates (TSP) – representing the range of particulate matter normally found in the urban atmosphere. TSP generally includes from 1µm to 50µm.

  2. PM10 – refers to particulate matter of less than 10m m in diameter. PM10 is generally considered the most useful particulate measure. Particles less than 10µm in diameter can be inhaled and have the potential to reach the tracheo-bronchial region of the lung.

  3. PM2.5 – comprises of fine particulate matter less than 2.5µm in diameter. Particles of this size are capable of deep lung penetration.

  4. Total suspended particulates (TSP) – representing the range of particulate matter normally found in the urban atmosphere. TSP generally includes from 1µm to 50µm.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration have a recommendation for 8 hour exposure for particles in the .3 µm size which is a recommended 0-40,000 particles/cc this is found in the OSHA Technical Manual.

Particulate Reduction;

The goal of improving the Indoor Air Quality is going to begin with particulate reduction.  Particulate matter (PM) is the name for a wide range of particles that are small enough to be carried by the air, therefore; breathed in by people. They can be solid or liquid, or a mixture of both.

The size of particles may range from 0.005 µm to 100 µm in diameter. In comparison, the average size of a human hair is 60 µm. PM10 are particles that are 10 µm or less in diameter.  PM2.5 are particles of 2.5 µm or less in diameter.  The finer particles pose the greatest threat to human health because they can travel deepest into the lungs.

Indoor particulate matter is a mixture of substances like these:

  1. Carbon (soot) emitted by combustion sources;

  2. Tiny liquid or solid particles in aerosols;

  3. Fungal spores;

  4. Pollen; and

  5. A toxin present in bacteria (endotoxin).

Indoor Particulate Matter Florida Indoor Air Quality Solutions IAQS II

In a properly-maintained home, most of the airborne particulate matter comes from the outside. However, some homes do have significant sources of indoor particulate matter which come from the following sources:

  1. Cigarette smoking is the greatest single source of particulate matter in homes and buildings where people smoke;

  2. Cooking: especially frying and sautéing;

  3. Malfunctioning combustion appliances: for example, furnaces without a proper air filter;

  4. Non-vented combustion appliances like gas stoves;

  5. Wood-burning appliances like wood stoves and fireplaces: especially if the smoke leaks or back drafts into the home; and

  6. Mold growth.

Reducing concentrations of particulate matter in your home;

  1. Furnaces and ventilation systems: Make sure that furnaces and ventilation systems are properly maintained, and that you replace filter screens as often as recommended by the manufacturer. All combustion appliances, including furnaces, should be inspected by a qualified technician yearly.

  2. Cooking: Turn your exhaust fan on when you are cooking, and especially when frying.

  3. Woodstoves: Choose properly sized woodstoves and make sure that the doors close tightly. Have your chimney cleaned yearly, too.

  4. Mold: Prevent mold growth and the release of mould spores into your indoor air by controlling humidity and fixing water leaks and water-damaged areas

  5. Smoking: Don’t allow people to smoke indoors because particulate matter levels increase with every smoker in the building.

  6. Clean: Use your HEPA vacuum cleaner regularly.

Indoor Particulate Matter Florida Indoor Air Quality Solutions IAQS IV

Your vacuum cleaner, as a general rule, is really only efficient at trapping particles that have settled onto the floor or whatever surface you’re vacuuming.  Even many room air cleaners are of limited effectiveness in typical building environments, because every time someone walks across a room, opens a door or window, or flips on the central air handling home, thousands if not millions of superfine particles are introduced into the breathing space as the room air is disturbed or exchanged. Since portable air cleaner airflow rates are often fairly low in relation to the rate of room contamination, many people with portable air cleaners may still end up breathing more dust than they realize.

How can you stop or prevent dust? Well, you can’t, at least not completely, since even humans produce their own organic dust and the surfaces within the building are also constantly “shedding” micro-particles. Of course, you can make sure you have good entrance matting in place, so outdoor contaminants and dusts are not tracked in as much.  You can also try to cleanup or contain other sources of fine particles (e.g., paper dust from tissue boxes, dirty air ducts or HVAC filters, etc.) Finally, you can make sure that the processes you use to clean your homes removes rather than redistribute dust as much as possible. This would include vacuuming surfaces with an HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filtered vacuum cleaner.   Use HEPA vacuum cleaners or high efficiency vacuum cleaner bags. These dramatically reduced the amount of dust, allergen and pollens pumped back into the air by the vacuum cleaner.

Indoor Particulate Matter Florida Indoor Air Quality Solutions IAQS XX

John Lapotaire, CIEC

Florida Indoor Air Quality Solutions, IAQS

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