Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Tiny particles in air pollution more dangerous than thought: Scientists

Air pollution models may underestimate the amount
of tiny aerosol particles, scientists warn.
For more than 20 years, scientists have warned that tiny particles (smaller than one thirtieth of  the diameter of a human hair) are most dangerous to human health.

The particles have been linked to heart and lung disease and contribute to the death of 50,000 Americans each year.

But scientists have recently learned that there is more to tiny particles than they previously thought.

Recent studies have shown that secondary organic aerosols (a subset of these particles) have a greater total mass and could therefore be much more harmful than previously thought.

Researchers in California have realized that older scientific models may downplay the dangers of these particles, which are much more persistent, and that measures to control pollution only addressed part of the problem.

Secondary organic aerosol particles are formed when pollutants and natural chemical compounds interact.
Scientists previously thought that these gaseous byproducts would incorporate into tiny airborne drops, which would soon evaporate.

However, the new study shows that instead they attach themselves to airborne organic particles and create tiny tar balls that persist much longer than previously thought.

That is why the scientists warn that older scientific models could seriously underestimate the amount of fine particles in the air.

Source: New York Times

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