Health effects of particulate matter

Tuli 556
Photo: Olli-Pekka Pietiläinen

Fine particles in ambient air are considered to be the worst air pollution for human health. Significant health effects are observed already at relatively low concentrations which are typical in Finland. Fine particles refer to atmospheric particles with a diameter less than 2,5 micrometers or PM2,5 particles.

Fine particles when inhaled by humans cause a wide range of health effects from mild intolerance and cardiovascular to respiratory diseases aggravation. It is estimated that fine particulate matter in outdoor air causes about 400 000 premature deaths in Europe. Respectively, the economic losses caused by health damages are several hundred billion euros annually.

Fine particles can be transported in the atmosphere thousands of kilometers from the emission source before entering the human lungs. For example, a significant part of the Finnish fine particulate matter background concentrations originate from Central and Eastern Europe. In addition to background concentrations people are exposed to fine particles that originate from local emission sources, for example, emissions from car engines and chimneys of houses. Those emissions from nearby sources may enter the human respiratory tracts before they dilute efficiently in the atmosphere. Annually several hundreds of premature deaths are caused by the local emissions in Finland and financial losses of at least tens of millions of euros due to increased illness.

The FRES research team uses mathematical models to estimate emissions of fine particulate matters from both local, nearby sources as well as long range transport. The objectives of the research are to evaluate the development of the emissions and health effects in the future as well as possibilities to reduce emissions in cost-efficient ways.

The health benefits of reducing emissions in monetary terms have been studied in the IHKU project, in which a  national-level air pollution damage cost model was developed for Finland to support strategic decision-making. In the follow-up project, air pollution damage costs have also been calculated at the municipal level. The project developed a national level IHKU damage cost calculator and a municipal level IHKU damage cost calculator for municipalities.

Published 2015-10-02 at 14:10, updated 2020-12-10 at 14:55