Particulate pollution goes by several names soot, dust or PM 2.5 and PM 10, which refer to the microscopic diameters of the particles in question. It forms from obvious sources, like mines kicking up dust, but also from complex reactions of chemicals in the atmosphere, as smokestack and tailpipe emissions interact to form often-toxic chemical droplets.
The government has been tightening the standards for allowable particulates in the air, as science shows how damaging this type of pollution can be to lung and heart health. Some studies also link these pollutants not only to respiratory and circulatory problems but also to cancer and other serious health problems. The pollution is so insidious because it is so small: The particles enter the lungs and can enter the bloodstream even through the smallest capillaries in the body.
Now, the Environmental Protection Agency has proposed a new map of America, showing which counties fail to meet air pollution standards for this type of pollution.
While 25 states are in compliance, some counties in the rest of the nation may be out of compliance. Those states and counties that are out of compliance will have to develop and implement plans to reduce harmful pollution a designation some governments fight, on the grounds that it will cost money.
Failing to act can cost lives, and money as well, as people miss work due to health problems associated with air pollution.
In other air quality news today, federal court tossed an EPA rule that would have limited states' ability to gather information from industrial polluters. It's the latest blow to the Bush Administration's attempt to influence Clean Air Act compliance, according to the New York Times.
To see if your county's air is free of harmful particulates or not, consult this EPA air quality map.
Or, check out today's air quality forecast, which shows moderate air pollution across a broad swath of the Appalachian and Ohio Valley regions, as well as the desert Southwest.
Enter your city or zip code to get your local temperature and air quality and find local green food and recycling resources near you.