PM1 - The new focus to protect human health

Ambient air quality has improved considerably in the last few decades by a range of measures to reduce harmful air emissions. However, there is convincing evidence that current levels of air pollution still pose a considerable risk to human health.

Among other specialized agencies, the World Health Organisation (WHO) – in its role as the watchdog of international public health – has been particularly articulate about the dangers of particulate matter (PM) in reports and statements.

WHO’s efforts have also been bolstered by frequently published newspaper reports, scientific studies, scholarly articles and government warnings about the negative health effects of poor quality air, and the diseases air pollution can cause or accelerate. Proof is online . . . try Googling “air pollution and health effects” and you will get several million hits in half a second.

So the health impact of breathing bad air, especially in the most polluted cities of the world, is being well documented today. Air pollution is now estimated to be responsible for several million premature deaths each year. It is also considered to be one of the highest risk factors for death globally and a leading environmental risk factor for disease.

Cast of particles

The most typical particulates in the air are:

  • PM1 – particles <1 μm in size. Examples: dust, combustion particles*, bacteria and viruses.
  • PM2.5 – particles <2.5 μm in size. Examples: pollen, spoors and other organic particles.
  • PM10 – particles <10 μm in size. Examples: coarser fine dust and organic particles.
  • Coarse – particles often 10 μm or bigger. Examples: visible coarse dust, sand, leaves, hairs and other large organic particles.

PM is a mixture with physical and chemical characteristics that vary by location. Its sources are man-made or natural. Air pollution therefore varies from place to place. Spending a day on the streets of Beijing, for example, will have the same negative effect on your respiratory tract as staying 30 days in Paris. It should be noted, however, that people will react differently to poor quality air, depending on their sensitivity.

When inhaled, PM10, PM2.5 and PM1 impact the body in different ways. Their ability to be trapped in the body, where they may form deposits, will depend on their size and whether they can pass through the walls of our airways.

Importance of good IAQ

How can we stop PM from invading our indoor spaces, where people spend around 90% of their lives? Unfortunately, we cannot fully escape outdoor air pollution by staying indoors because the function of ventilation systems is to mix outdoor air with indoor air.

If outdoor air is not effectively filtered and cleaned, there is a risk that the indoor air will contain a very large quantity of the harmful particulates that find their way into people’s respiratory tracts and circulation systems. These particles and other substances can combine with those already present inside buildings and become more aggressive and harmful, making indoor air pollution many more times as hazardous as the outdoor variety.

But with quality air filters in air handling units, a significant proportion of these harmful outdoor particles can be stopped before they are spread through the ventilation system. This means that in polluted cities like London, Paris, Los Angeles, Beijing and New Delhi, it is possible to improve the quality of the poor indoor air until it reaches an acceptable level, using the ventilation system alone.

If a mobile air purifier is installed in rooms as an extra measure, a consistently high level of air quality can be achieved, even if the amount of particulates and other substances in the outdoor air varies significantly.

PM1 is most harmful

Today, WHO and the EU are monitoring PM2.5 and PM10 and reporting on the negative health effects of these particles and their ability to penetrate our lungs and cause respiratory and cardiovascular morbidity and disease.

But to provide a truly healthy and productive indoor air environment in areas with bad air pollution, ventilation systems need filters that are also capable of removing PM1 particles – the smallest fraction and the most harmful.

Our lungs are prey to PM1. When inhaled, PM1 particles travel to the deepest area of the lungs, where a significant part of them passes through the cell membranes of the alveoli (the millions of tiny sacs in our lungs where O2 and CO2 are exchanged), enter the bloodstream, damage the inner walls of arteries, penetrate tissue in the cardiovascular system and potentially spread to organs.

At worst, PM1 can contribute to deadly diseases like heart attacks, lung cancer, dementia, emphysema, edema and other serious disease, leading to premature death.

PM filtration today

Filters are the primary guardian of proper indoor air quality in our HVAC systems with most buildings incorporating MERV 13 filtration, or a minimum of 50% removal at PM1.

PM1 should always be the prime consideration when selecting air filters as 99% of all airborne particles are under 1-micron in size, can stay suspended almost indefinitely unless removed by filtration, and are the size most capable of getting into the lungs and causing damage. In some cases, designers also consider PM2.5 as there is data, immediately available, from cognizant authorities like the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA). Selecting a filter based upon its efficiency at PM1, and PM2.5, and ensure greater protection of building occupants.

Camfil offers high PM1 efficiencies in products such as the Hi-Flo ES, Hi-Flo, Durafil ES, Riga-Flo, Opti-Pac and Aeropac, all with different configurations and features specific to the HVAC equipment that they are being installed in.

In addition to selecting the correct filter to address particle efficiency, there are other important factors to consider, such as longer filter life, lower pressure drop to move more air through the system and lower energy consumption. Camfil filters are recognized as “energy heroes” because they can save energy resulting in lower utility costs and reducing the facility’s carbon footprint.

Your local Camfil consultant can provide the expertise to select the right filters based upon your local air quality, reduce your total filtration expenditure and significantly reduce your energy expenditures to move air through your facility. They can also provide various Case Studies specific to your application. Camfil can also provide solutions for the removal of odors and/or gases. For targeting specific areas of your building, Camfil offers room air purifiers or industrial level air cleansers that can be suspended from the ceiling, mounted on a wall, or moved from location to location as needed, the latter being popular in retail, medical and offices. 

* Diesel engine emissions are considered the primary source and WHO classified them as carcinogenic in 2012.