Understanding the health and economic impacts of particulate matters Listen with ReadSpeaker Our expertise

Air pollution

Regardless of whether you are in a low, middle or high-income market, outdoor air pollution is a major environmental health concern affecting everyone around the world.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), each year around seven million people die globally from the impact of air pollution, making it the world's largest environmental health risk. Over in Southeast Asia, nearly three million deaths recorded annually were related to outdoor air pollution.

Particulate matter, also known as particle pollution, is the term for a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets found in the air. While some particles like dust, dirt, soot or smoke are large or dark enough to be seen with the naked eye, others are so small they can only be detected using an electron microscope.


These particles come in many sizes and shapes and can be made up of hundreds of different chemicals. Some are emitted directly from a source such as construction sites, unpaved roads, fields, smokestacks or fires. Most particles form in the atmosphere because of complex reactions of chemicals such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, which are pollutants emitted from power plants, industries and automobiles.


 Particle pollution is often categorized as:

  • PM 10: inhalable particles with diameters that are generally 10-micrometer and smaller
  • PM 2.5: fine inhalable particles with diameters that are generally 2.5-micrometer and smaller


Just how small is 2.5-micrometer? Think of a single strand of hair from your head. The average human hair is about 70-micrometer in diameter, making it 30 times larger than the largest fine particle.

Particles in the PM 2.5 size range are small enough to be inhaled into respiratory systems simply through breathing. These highly toxic air particles can travel deep into the respiratory tract, reaching the lungs and causing health effects such as eye, nose, throat and lung irritation, coughing, sneezing, runny nose and shortness of breath.


Studies have shown a significant association between exposure to particle pollution and health risks, including premature death. Research also shows that a sustained rise in air pollution increases the risk of death from lung cancer by 25 percent.


Other health effects may include cardiovascular effects such as cardiac arrhythmias, heart attacks and respiratory effects such as asthma attacks and bronchitis. The condition worsens for those people with pre-existing heart or lung disease, the older population and children.


The rise in the incidence of chronic and acute illnesses can put major strains on health systems and cause a substantial impact on a market’s overall economy.

In 2020, according to a Greenpeace Southeast Asia analysis, the estimated economic cost of PM 2.5 air pollution exceeded USD 5 billion in 14 cities. In Southeast Asia, the report revealed that less than eleven percent of the cities in the region have air quality that meets the annual PM 2.5 exposure targets set by the WHO.


Greenpeace and IQAir AirVisual have created a tool that uses live air quality data to track the health impact and economic cost of air pollution in real-time. The tool applies an algorithm to ground-level air quality data to calculate an estimated cost of air pollution from PM 2.5 in cities around the world. It uses air quality data combined with scientific risk models, as well as population and health data, to track the health and economic impact of air pollution in real-time.


Working-age mortalities can affect labor markets as adults with health problems are unable to work and the loss of spending power among the older population will affect the economy. Children suffering from asthma attacks have impacts on learning potential and on their caregivers who need to spend more time with them.


However, despite the continual health burden, more than 70 percent of cities in Southeast Asia have recorded improved air quality in 2020. As air quality monitoring improves, it is increasingly difficult for both the public and private sectors to hide the real cost of air pollution. 

For health authorities to put in place more effective policies and safety regulations, they need to foremost of all, attain an accurate understanding of the air quality around us. This means being able to accurately gauge the concentration of airborne particulates within a certain area and to determine the source of these impurities.


While there are various technologies and solutions available to help monitor and analyze air quality, the use of advanced elemental analysis technology can play an important role in this by enabling more accurate profiling of air particles.


One of the leading technologies used to overcome PM 2.5 challenges is the use of X-ray fluorescence (XRF), a non-destructive technology used for elemental analysis on the aerosols collected at air filters. The main advantage of XRF is that filters can be directly loaded in the spectrometer without any dissolution of the filter material. After analysis, the sample can still be analyzed further with other air quality analysis techniques.


Learn more of this technology available from Malvern Panalytical: click here

The air that we breathe should not be deadly. While the COVID-19 pandemic has done its part to lower air pollution levels globally due to decreased human and economic activities, we must continue to do our part by using technology and sustainable solutions to reduce air pollution and make our cities safer for everyone to live in.

Reach out to us for more details on how our technology solutions can help your business and your customers better protect the air quality around us and lessen the impact on the environment.


Ruethaitip Tiratrakulvichaya

About the author

Ruethaitip Tiratrakulvichaya has been with DKSH in Thailand since 2009. As the Application Manager for the Malvern product range, she is responsible for technical and application support across Southeast Asia.

With a background in food science and agroindustry, she is experienced in delivering training to both internal colleagues and external customers on how to operate and obtain the best data.

Ruethaitip has extensive working knowledge in material characterization techniques including laser diffraction, dynamic light scattering, micro-calorimetry, size exclusion chromatography, and morphological property.