It is important for our health to keep the air clean in the surrounding environment. A recent study shows that a sharp increase in short-term particle pollution for several Montana counties has harmful effects on air quality. Understand the causes and effects of particle pollution to protect yourself from its danger.

Understanding Particle Pollution

You may not see it, but there is a mixture of solid and liquid particles in the air. Some of these particles are natural, such as dust and pollen, while others are the waste product of man-made processes. Coal-fired power plants, wildfires and diesel engines all contribute to harmful particle pollution that can cause health issues for people nearby.

Health Risks From Particle Pollution

The tiny soot particles can enter your lungs when you breathe. You may not notice the particles, but over time this can cause serious heart and lung problems. Studies have shown how high rates of exposure to particle pollution can lead to heart attacks, asthma, difficulty breathing and even premature death for those with pre-existing heart or lung disease. Particle pollution is also known to cause temporary discomfort such as irritation in sensitive areas like the eyes, nose and throat or coughing and chest tightness.

Environmental Effects of Particle Pollution

Particle pollution can negatively impact the natural and man-made environment in your area. In extreme cases, particle pollution reduces visibility by creating haze. When sunlight hits the particles, it creates a fog in the air that makes it difficult to see far ahead.

Buildings and monuments can also be affected by particle pollution as the particles can stain and damage solid structures. Dry deposition, the deposition of acidic particles in the absence of moisture, occurs when chemicals make particles acidic. Over time, dry deposition can corrode metal, stone and other man-made surfaces. This can lead to costly maintenance or, in some cases, the loss of culturally significant structures.

Particle pollution and dry deposition can lead to devastating environmental damage, some of which may be irreversible. Natural lakes and streams can become acidic, which not only depletes fresh water sources but harms the species living in them. The disruption of nutrient balance can  make the water an unlivable habitat. Nutrients in the soil can be depleted as well, leading to unusable crops and diseased forests.

Findings From the State of the Air Report

The American Lung Association’s 2017 State of the Air report uses a grading system to evaluate air quality throughout the United States. The association collects data from federal, state and local governments to determine the state of the ozone as well as year-round and short-term particle pollution.

The overall ozone and year-round particle pollution rates throughout the country have decreased, but short-term particle pollution in Montana has taken a turn for the worse. The Lung Association evaluated 11 Montana counties and found that eight of them received air quality test grades of F, with the highest-ranking counties receiving a D or C grade.

These low ratings are most likely the result of several concentrated wildfires in summer and fall. In fact, there is a strong correlation between poor air quality days and wildfire occurrences in the eleven Montana counties examined. Although wildfires are usually not caused by direct human activity, carbon emissions can cause an increase in heat and a change in weather patterns that can lead to prime wildfire conditions.

How to Protect Yourself from Particle Pollution

During times of high air pollution risk, limit your time outdoors as much as possible. If you need to go outside, cover your nose and mouth with a scarf or bandana. Make sure you have air filters and purifiers installed in your home ventilation system to keep indoor air quality high. Clean the filters often to maximize their effectiveness.

To limit the large-scale causes of particle pollution, reduce carbon emissions whenever possible. Try walking, biking or taking public transportation for daily commutes, buy locally sourced products and install energy-efficient appliances in your home. These small acts can help reduce and limit particle pollution.

Particle pollution is a major risk for wildfire-prone areas of Montana. Pay attention to wildfire reports in your area and take the necessary precautions to protect yourself from poor air quality. Make an attempt to reduce carbon emissions to decrease the factors that cause wildfires. These tips can help you stay healthy and protect the environment.