Cover Image


View/Hide Left Panel

Reported by: P Vigliarolo, Communications Div; S Rappaport, MPH, K Lieber, MPH, A Gorman, Epidemiology and Statistics Div; R White, MST, National Programs Div, American Lung Association, New York. Air Pollution and Respiratory Health Br, Div of Environmental Hazards and Health Effects, National Center for Environmental Health, CDC.

Editorial Note: Particulate matter (e.g., dust, dirt, and smoke) is a complex and varying mixture of substances. Sources include motor-vehicle emissions, factory and utility smokestacks, residential wood burning, construction activity, mining, agricultural tilling, open burning, wind-blown dust, and fire. Some particles are formed in the atmosphere through the condensation or transformation of other chemical substances. Particles with diameters <10 µm pose a greater health risk than larger particles because particles of this size are easily inhaled deep into the lungs.

Increased risks for illness and death have been associated with particulate air pollution at levels comparable to those presented in this report (68). Acute effects on the respiratory system are well established and include exacerbations of chronic respiratory disease, restrictions in activity, and increases in emergency department visits and hospitalizations for respiratory illness (8). Persons with asthma are particularly sensitive to the effects of particulate air pollution (8). A national health objective for the year 2000 is to reduce asthma morbidity, measured by a reduction in asthma hospitalizations, from 188 per 100,000 in 1987 to no more than 160 per 100,000 (objective 11.1) (1).

The estimates presented in this report underscore the potential public health importance of particulate air pollution. Although levels of airborne particulate pollution declined substantially from 1988 to 1992 (emissions of PM10 decreased 8% and air concentrations of PM10 decreased 17%) (9), continued efforts are required to reduce health risks associated with particulate air pollution. EPA is reviewing technical and scientific information to determine whether the federal ambient air quality standard for particulate matter, established in 1987, should be revised.

ALA recently issued The Perils of Particulates (10), which includes national and county estimates of populations at potential risk for exposure to particulate air pollution. Copies are available from local offices of the ALA, telephone (800) 586–4872.


1. Public Health Service. Healthy people 2000: national health promotion and disease prevention objectives. Washington, DC: US Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, 1991; DHHS publication no. (PHS)91–50213.

2. US Environmental Protection Agency. Revisions to the National Ambient Air Quality Standard for particulate matter: final rule. Federal Register 1987;52:24634.

3. Air Resources Board. California ambient air quality standard for particulate matter (PM10). Sacramento, California: State of California, Air Resources Board, Research Division, December 1982.

4. US Environmental Protection Agency. Air quality criteria document for lead. Washington, DC: US Environmental Protection Agency, 1977.

5. NCHS. Current estimates from the National Health Interview Survey, 1991. Hyattsville, Maryland: US Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, CDC, 1992; DHHS publication no. (PHS)92–1509. (Vital and health statistics; series 10, no. 184).

6. Ostro B. The association of air pollution and mortality: examining the case for inference. Arch Environ Health 1993;48:336–42.

7. Schwartz J. Air pollution and daily mortality: a review and meta analysis. Environ Res 1994;64:36–52.

8. Dockery DW, Pope CA. Acute respiratory effects of particulate air pollution. Annu Rev Public Health 1994;15:107–32.

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement