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Air pollutants: What makes particulate matter so dangerous?

2023-01-19 09:45:22
newsbot by content-proivder.ch GmbH
Quelle: Swiss Federal Council

Dübendorf, St, writes the Swiss Federal Council.

Gallen und Thun, 19.01.2023 - Large amounts of particulate matter in the air are known to be harmful to human health. But many questions remain unanswered: Which components are particularly dangerous? At what concentrations? The "oxidative potential" of particulate matter could serve as a criterion for assessing risks in the future – and Empa researchers have explored it for Switzerland.

Inflammation, bronchitis, asthma attacks, cardiovascular problems ... – an excerpt from the list of possible health problems caused by high concentrations of particulate matter: particles with a diameter of ten micrometers or less – called PM10 – and even smaller PM2.5 particles that can enter our lungs from car exhaust, heating systems, industrial operations and natural sources.

Although strict monitoring and abatement measures have reduced pollution levels in Switzerland since the 1990s, the problem persists in many places, especially in cities.Particle size, composition, sources and effects of particulate matter are not easy to determine. One thing is certain: the smaller the particles, the deeper they reach the human lungs.

But which fractions are particularly dangerous? And in what combinations and concentrations? To describe this, a new criterion termed oxidative potential had been developed a few years ago: a term intended to describe the ability of inhaled particles to trigger the formation of so-called free radicals in the body, which can ultimately lead to inflammation.Samples from five locations in SwitzerlandEmpa researchers Stuart Grange and Christoph Hüglin from the Air Pollutants / Environmental Technology lab have investigated the suitability of this criterion for the assessment of health risks with samples collected Switzerland in greater detail – with an elaborate measurement campaign supported by the French Université Grenoble Alpes. With the help of the National Air Pollutant Monitoring Network (NABEL), which Empa operates together with the Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN), they collected particulate matter samples in the PM2.5 and PM10 categories around the clock between June 2018 and May 2019. The measuring stations covered the entire range of particulate pollution levels and were located in cities, the agglomeration and in rural areas south and north of the Alps.In total, the experts analyzed around 900 samples in the laboratory – using test methods for oxidative potential that work with different analysis substances: ascorbic acid (AA for short), dithiothreitol (DTT) and dichlorofluorescein (DFCH).

In the AA test, the consumption of ascorbic acid, an important antioxidant, allows conclusions to be drawn about the oxidative toxicity of the sample under investigation, for example due to metals contained therein. The other two methods work in a similar way.

Put simply, says Christoph Hüglin, the three methods offer different perspectives on similar biological processes.Machine learningDr. Christoph HüglinAir Pollution / Environmental TechnologyPhone: +41 58 765 4654christoph.hueglin@empa.ch.

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