“Outdoor particulate pollution was responsible for an estimated 4.2 million deaths worldwide in 2015, with a majority concentrated in east and south Asia. Millions more fell ill from breathing dirty air.
This fine pollution mainly comes from burning things: Coal in power plants, gasoline in cars, chemicals in industrial processes, or woody materials and whatever else ignites during wildfires. The particles are too small for the eye to see — each about 35 times smaller than a grain of fine beach sand — but in high concentrations they cast a haze in the sky. And, when breathed in, they wreak havoc on human health.
PM2.5 can evade our bodies’ defenses, penetrating deep into the lungs and even entering the bloodstream. It has been shown to exacerbate asthma and other lung disorders, and increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. This microscopic pollution, named because each particle is smaller than 2.5 micrometers across, has also been linked to developmental problems in children and cognitive impairment in the elderly, as well as premature labor and low birth weights.
Under high levels of particulate pollution, “you can’t function, you can’t thrive,” said Alexandra Karambelas, an environmental analyst and research scientist affiliated with Columbia University. “Having access to clean air is kind of a basic human right.” “