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Researchers Urge Regulators to Rethink Strategies for Soot Emission

rticles can damage lungs and the heart, advised the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that the previous standard of 65 micrograms per cubic meter of air was too loose.

A third key implication has to do with how the chemical process leads to a spreading of pollution over a larger geographic region. "We’re seeing that urban pollution doesn’t stay contained in the cities, but impacts rural and other downwind areas, creating even more complicated issues for regulators," Robinson said.

Fine particles such as smoke or dust form droplets in clouds and affect how much sun is able to pass through the cloud to earth, as well as the amount of moisture that is returned to earth. Both clouds and sunlight play key roles in climate change. The effects of particulate matter were identified as key to uncertainty in a recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) summarizing the state scientific knowledge on the impacts of human activities on global climate.

"For the longest time, particulate matter has been the least understood component of the climate system. The more we understand particulate matter, the more we realize that complexity has been masking our ability to calculate how big a role greenhouse gases have played in inducing global warming," said Donahue. "Moreover, the new mechanism we found changes the chemical properties of particles, making them more likely to participate in cloud formation. Therefore, particulate matter may be having a stronger influence on global climate than previously thought."

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