Fine Particulate Matter (PM2.5)
What does this indicator measure?
Fine particulate matter (or PM2.5) is the technical term for very small particles from vehicle tailpipes, tires and brakes, power plants, factories, burning wood, construction dust, and many other sources.116 These particles are 30 times smaller than a human hair, or 2.5 micrometers. This indicator measures the annual average amount of these particles117, which are abbreviated as PM2.5.
The connection to health
Everyone should be able to live in neighborhoods where it is safe to breathe. Since fine particulate matter is so small, it can reach deep into people’s lungs leading adverse health outcomes. This can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality. It can also cause adverse respiratory outcomes such as chronic obstructive lung disease, asthma, altered pulmonary function, and other symptoms. In California, the Air Resources Board estimates that, based on PM2.5 levels in the air between 2004 and 2006, over 9,300 deaths could be prevented each year if California met its current statewide PM2.5 standard.118 PM2.5 is especially dangerous for children, exacerbating pulmonary inflammation and other risks. Evidence that links PM2.5 to low birth weight and infant mortality is growing.119
Where to start?
To address high levels of fine particulate matter, jurisdictions should work to reduce vehicle miles traveled and PM2.5 emission levels, while also helping to protect residents from current pollution.
While local jurisdictions do not have regulatory authority over most smokestack (stationary source) and tail pipe (mobile source) emissions, there are many actions local jurisdictions can take to reduce pollution. They can incentivize or require Low-Emission Vehicles and Freight Facilities in many situations. They can also limit PM2.5 by helping reduce car travel—decreasing tail pipe emissions and other particles released from wear and tear on breaks and tires. Smart Growth strategies, in particular, can help reduce driving by allowing people to live close to jobs, services and other destinations. They can also work with their local Air Quality Management District to Reduce Emissions from Other Sources, like construction, homes, and other stationary sources.
In addition to reducing pollution, it is essential to find ways to protect residents from existing PM2.5 sources and other emissions. Jurisdictions can Separate People from Pollution sources by using planning tools to ensure that new residential development and schools are not adjacent to these sources, and to encourage ending existing incompatible land uses. Where pollution and people must co-exist, jurisdictions can Reduce Exposure to Pollution by encouraging healthy design standards and accurate information collection and response to existing risks. Finally, jurisdictions can Build Community Power and Connection and partner with communities to address air quality issues.
For all strategies, jurisdictions should direct and prioritize efforts for places already overburdened by air pollution, and work to address existing inequities in health. In addition to relieving existing burdens, jurisdictions should identify opportunities to maximize additional health or quality of life benefits that can be achieved in addition to decreased pollution. For instance, Weatherization Programs can improve indoor air quality, reduce asthma triggers, provide job training opportunities, and save residents money. Local governments should prioritize interventions that minimize risk in vulnerable communities, while maximizing co-benefits that meet community needs.