[Are inhaled dust particles harmful for our lungs?]

Schweiz Med Wochenschr. 1996 Dec 14;126(50):2165-74.
[Article in German]


Particles with diameters ranging from less than 0.02 to more than 100 microns and in concentration up to 120 micrograms/m3 daily average TSP (total suspended particles) are measurable in the air of Swiss cities and responsible for the decrease of visibility on the Swiss Plateau and south of the Alps. The particle size shows a typical distribution: the coarse particles (> 2.5 microns mass median diameter) are mostly of natural origin (plants, pollen, earth particles) and are deposited in the upper airways. The fine particles (PM2.5 < 2.5 microns) are predominantly deposited into the alveolar space. These fine and ultrafine particles (< 0.02 microns) are produced by the burning of fossil fuels or by photochemical reactions. By bypassing the mucociliary and cellular defense mechanisms, fine particles can invade the lung parenchyma and cause an inflammatory response. The additional chemical layering of a carbon core by nitrates, sulfates and other organic materials and metals such as iron cause greater local oxidative and/or carcinogenic damage than in the vaporized state. In comparing worldwide epidemiological studies, there seems to be a cohesive and consistent relationship between increases of particle concentration and the increase of mortality (mostly among patients over 65 with concomitant lung and heart diseases and among smokers) and morbidity (bronchitis, pneumonia, COPD, and, less convincingly, asthma). An increase in daily average PM10 (particles < 10 microns) is correlated with an increase in mortality not related to accidents and suicides of 1.0% for the same and/or the following days. In Switzerland, mean annual concentrations of 14-53 micrograms/m3 TSP or 10-33 micrograms/m3 PM10, well below the national standard (annual mean TSP 70 micrograms/m3) have been measured in rural and urban areas. Even at these concentrations an increase in respiratory symptoms and a decrease in lung function, without evidence for a "safe" threshold, have been observed in the Swiss study of air pollution and lung diseases in adults (SAPALDIA). Although the noxious effects of the particles cannot be clearly separated from the effect of other pollutants (e.g. NOx, SO2, ozone) in complex pollutant mixtures, the emission standards and national standards for ambient air should be revised, in particular by adding a standard for fine particles (e.g. PM10 or PM2.5).

Publication types

  • English Abstract
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Air Pollutants / adverse effects*
  • Air Pollutants / analysis
  • Asthma / etiology
  • Bronchitis / etiology
  • Carcinogens
  • Dust / adverse effects*
  • Dust / analysis
  • Humans
  • Lung Diseases / etiology*
  • Lung Diseases, Obstructive / etiology
  • Particle Size
  • Pneumonia / etiology


  • Air Pollutants
  • Carcinogens
  • Dust