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Adefolake Adekola: The Environmental Effects of Dust & other Particulate Matter

Adefolake Adekola



Ever wondered why you have itchy or red eyes in traffic? Or why you sneeze uncontrollably multiple times when you get to a certain location? For the ladies, it’s the baked look of your make up – when it looks like there is an extra layer of powder and you itch so much. All this happens as a result of particulate matter a.k.a dust and other particles in the environment.

Particulate matter as defined by United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) is “A complex mixture of extremely liquid droplets and extremely small particles that get into the air. When inhaled, the particles affect the lungs and heart which causes severe health effects”

Particulate matter commonly known as PM or particle pollution can come in form of smoke, dust, dirt or soot. The two common categories are PM10 and PM2.5, PM2.5 is fine particle that has a diameter of about 2.5 micrometers or smaller; while PM10 is inhalable particles with a diameter of 10 micrometers or less. Visible examples of PM10 are dust and smoke, but over 90% of particulate matter cannot be seen with the naked eyes, which would require an electron microscope.

The difference between PM10 and PM2.5 is PM2.5 is smaller in size than PM10 and is usually referred to as fine particles. Although, they have different sizes, their similarity is they can both be inhaled and reach the human lungs. Sulfates, Nitrates, Ammonium and other inorganic ions of chlorides, sodium, potassium etc. are the chemical components of PM. Sources of particulate matter are both from man-made sources and natural sources. Examples of man-made sources are the combustion of solid-fuel, engines, erosion of pavements and other industrial activities, while natural sources occur as a result of the chemical reactions of gaseous pollutants.

Studies show that at least 92% of the world’s population are living in a place where the WHO (World Health Organization) guideline for air quality is not met. About three million premature death cases are attributed to outdoor air pollution and 88% occurred in low and middle income countries. Particulate matter is a form of air pollution and has adverse environmental and health effects. Globally, about 5% of lung cancer deaths and 3% of cardiopulmonary are as a result of PM.

According to WHO, PM affects humans more than any other pollutants. The major issue associated with particulate matter in parts of the world such as Nigeria is, little monitoring in done to tackle such situations. Some of the environmental issues faced with PM is depleting of the nutrients in the soil, damage of farm crops, ocean acidification, nutrients imbalance in water, affecting the diversity of ecosystems, drought, rainfall decline and climate change. Sometimes particulate matter can cause invisibility in the atmosphere as a result of smog.

Health Effects of Particulate Matter
A few of the health effects of PM are: asthma attacks, lung diseases, irregular breathing, heart attacks, bronchitis, chest pain, tiredness, vascular inflammation, Atherosclerosis and breathlessness. Exposure of particulate matter can cause retardation or premature growth for pregnant women and ultimately death. Sore throat, red or itchy eyes etc are some minor effects of particulate matter. Pregnant women are not the only ones at risk, elderly people are also at risk. People with heart and lung conditions and infants also have higher risk than others. Also, diabetic patients can develop heart diseases due to PM. Lung cancer is a long term effect of exposure to particulate matter and ultimately death.

Every problem has a solution. There are various ways to reduce exposure to particulate matter, such as:

  • Reduce the amount of time spent outdoors
  • Fitness activities such as fast walking instead of running is preferable
  • Measure the air quality index in your area
  • Cover the nostrils with damp towel, when in an area with excessive dust or smoke
  • Close windows while driving in traffic or on busy roads, to reduce inhalation of PM
  • Avoid smoking in confined spaces
  • Install exhaust fans (vent) in the kitchen while cooking
  • Use of doormats at home will reduce the presence of PM
  • Vacuum the house regularly
  • Wash or rinse face regularly to prevent premature aging and skin damage caused by PM.

Photo Credit: Dreamstime

Adefolake Adekola is an Environmental and Social Development Specialist. She is currently the Social Safeguard Consultant on a World Bank Assisted Project (Community and Social Development Project) across 30 states. Her experience spans across different sectors as she has worked both in the Public and Private sector. She has a Masters’ degree in Environmental Assessment and Management and hold numerous certifications.She is also an Independent Consultant for top companies in Nigeria and has work experience in Nigeria and the United Kingdom. She is the author of a book titled “Functioning in the knowledge of who you are” and a website where she talks about everything and anything She loves to watch series when she is less busy and write articles based on extensive research.


  1. Muizz

    October 12, 2017 at 12:34 pm

    Brilliant write up. Keep this up. Looking forward to the next article.

  2. Rudolf Huber

    October 13, 2017 at 12:23 pm

    Africa is becoming aware that pollution is a bad thing. That’s a good thing. Ironically, we are not much further when it comes to PM. The very finest particles, those that harm us the most, are not even measured. This too is starting to change. But we cant shut down the economy or go for solutions that would bankrupt us all. We need something that’s clean enough while being cheap enough. That’s where Natural Gas comes in.

    • Adefolake Adekola

      Adefolake Adekola

      October 16, 2017 at 10:04 am

      You are absolutely right! Thanks for the feedback

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