Small particles can make their way deep into human lungs and some ultrafine particles can even enter the bloodstream. Once there, they can spark a whole range of diseases including asthma, cardiovascular disease, and bronchitis. The American Heart Association estimates that in the United States alone, PM2.5 air pollution spark some 60,000 deaths a year.
Though PM2.5 as a class of particle clearly poses health problems, researchers have had less success assigning blame to specific types of particles. "There are still big debates about which type of particle is the most toxic," said Pope. "We're not sure whether it's the sulfates, or the nitrates, or even fine dust that's the most problematic."
One of the big sticking points: PM2.5 particles frequently mix and create hybrid particles, making it difficult for both satellite and ground-based instruments to parse out the individual effects of the particles.
The Promise of Satellites and PM2.5
The new map, and research that builds upon it, will help guide researchers who attempt to address this and a number of other unresolved questions about PM2.5. The most basic: how much of a public health toll does air pollution take around the globe? "We can see clearly that a tremendous number of people are exposed to high levels of particulates," said Martin. "But, so far, nobody has looked at what that means in terms of mortality and disease. Most of the epidemiology has focused on developed countries in North America and Europe."
Now, with this map and dataset in hand, epidemiologists can start to look more closely at how long ter
|Contact: Adam Voiland|
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center