Health effects of particles in ambient air

Int J Hyg Environ Health. 2004 Sep;207(4):399-407. doi: 10.1078/1438-4639-00306.


A summary of a critical review by a working group of the German commission on Air Pollution Prevention of VDI and DIN of the actual data on exposure and health effects (excluding cancer) of fine particulate air pollution is presented.

Exposure: Typical ambient particle concentrations for PM10 (PM2.5) in Germany are in the range of 10-45 (10-30) microg/m3 as annual mean and 50-200 (40-150) microg/m3 as maximum daily mean. The ratio of PM2.5/PM10 generally amounts between 0.7 and 0.9.

Health effects: During the past 10 years many new epidemiological and toxicological studies on health effects of particulate matter (PM) have been published. In summary, long-term exposure against PM for years or decades is associated with elevated total, cardiovascular, and infant mortality. With respect to morbidity, respiratory symptoms, lung growth, and function of the immune system are affected. Short-term studies show consistant associations of exposure to daily concentrations of PM with mortality and morbidity on the same day or the subsequent days. Patients with asthma, COPD, pneumonia, and other respiratory diseases as well as patients with cardio-vascular diseases and diabetes are especially affected. The strongest associations are found for PM2.5 followed by PM10, with no indication of a threshold value for the health effects. The data base for ultra fine particles is too small for final conclusions. The available toxicological data support the epidemiological findings and give hints as to the mechanisms of the effects.

Conclusion: The working group concludes that a further reduction of the limit values proposed for 2005 will substantially reduce health risks due to particulate air pollution. Because of the strong correlation of PM10 with PM2.5 at most German sites there is no specific need for limit values of PM2.5 for Germany in addition to those of PM10.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants / adverse effects*
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Europe / epidemiology
  • Germany / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Maximum Allowable Concentration
  • Morbidity*
  • Mortality*
  • Risk
  • United States / epidemiology


  • Air Pollutants