Airborne particulate matter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Colleges, School and Institutes

External organisations

  • Department of Environmental Sciences/Center of Excellence in Environmental Studies, King Abdulaziz University


Airborne particulate matter (PM) is a pollutant of concern not only because of its adverse effects on human health but because of its ability to reduce visibility and soil buildings and materials. It can be regarded as a suite of pollutants since PM covers a very wide range of particle sizes and also has a diverse chemical composition. Historically, much of the PM arose from coal burning and was measured as black smoke. However, in the second half of the twentieth century in developed countries, there was a reduction in black smoke emissions from coal burning and PM steadily became dominated by carbonaceous particles from road traffic exhaust and the secondary pollutants, ammonium salts and secondary organic carbon. This is exemplified by the composition of fine
particles (referred to as PM2.5) asmeasured inLondon, Delhi and Beijing. Steadily, as control strategies have addressed the more tractable sources of emissions, so sources previously regarded as unconventional have emerged and have been seen to make a significant contribution to airborne PM concentrations. Among these are non-exhaust particles from road traffic, cooking aerosol and wood smoke. The particle size distribution of airborne PM is hugely diverse, ranging from newly formed particles of a few nanometres in diameter through to particles of tens of micrometres in diameter. There has been a great deal of interest in ultrafine (nano) particles because of suspicions of enhanced toxicity, and as traffic emissions decrease as a source, so regional nucleation processes have become much bigger relative contributors to particle number, but not mass.

This article is part of a discussion meeting issue ‘Air quality, past present and future’.


Original languageEnglish
Article number20190319
Pages (from-to)20190319
Number of pages13
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences
Issue number2183
Early online date28 Sep 2020
Publication statusPublished - 30 Oct 2020


  • PM 10, PM 2.5, airborne particulate matter, particle number, source apportionment, ultrafine particles