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Fine particulate matter, or PM, is a mixture of dust particles and liquid vapor. Unlike regular dust that you encounter in daily life, PM carries toxic chemicals in it. PM often contains acids, such at nitrates, or metals. These chemicals land on the dust particles which you then inhale. PM can range in size from "PM10" to PM2.5". PM10 are defined as being particles which are 10 micrometers in diameter or smaller, and are considered "coarse". These particles establish the upper limit on the size of PM that can easily enter the lungs during inhalation. PM2.5 are particles that are 2.5 micrometers or smaller in diameter. Due to their smaller size, PM2.5 are much more likely to be inhaled deep into the lungs.
The size difference between regular dust and PM is a very important distinction in terms of public health. The smaller the particle, the deeper into the lung it will travel in any given breath. To get a sense of how small these particles are, a strand of human hair is on average 30 times larger than the biggest PM particles. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, the size of a particle is directly related to the adverse health effects it has the potential to cause.
Fine particulate matter has been linked to many respiratory and heart health problems. Inhaling particles deep into the lungs can irritate the lining of the lungs which can cause coughing fits, and difficulty breathing. It can reduce lung function and aggravate existing conditions such as asthma or chronic bronchitis. PM has also been linked to causing irregular heart beats and non-fatal heart attacks. In addition, it can cause premature death in people with heart and lung disease.
PM has been categorized into two types, primary particles and secondary particles. Primary particles are those that are emitted as PM directly from a source. This can be PM from a construction site, or a forest fire. Secondary particles become PM in the atmosphere through chemical reactions between dust and liquids. This type of PM is created out of sulfates and nitrates from vehicles or industrial smoke stacks that interact with other chemicals in the atmosphere. The EPA believes that the majority of PM in the US is from secondary particles.
The largest impact from PM is on human health, but it can also effect the physical environment as well. PM in the troposphere, the lowest layer of the atmosphere from the ground to 4 - 12 miles up, can lead to reduced visibility, similar to smog. When PM settles out of the air, or comes down in "acid rain" it can deposit in the soil and water ecosystems. Because of the acid in PM, over time this accumulation can change the pH balance of an area, which can have devastating effects on the local biotic community. Like acid rain, PM accumulation can each away at buildings and monuments, creating a pitted, or stained look. This is called the aesthetic damage caused by particulate matter.
Because of New Jersey's high population density, there are a lot of cars on the road, and a lot of traffic jams. Vehicle emissions contribute to particulate matter because of the soot created by the combustion of different fuels. Nitrates are formed in the combustion process, and the emissions send these toxins up into the troposphere, where they become secondary particles. Due to the different chemical make up of gasoline and diesel fuels, diesel engines emit more particulate matter. By regulating diesel fuel standards levels of PM can decline.
The averages life-span of a diesel engine vehicle is 30 years, so regulating existing vehicles is an important step in reducing PM pollution. For the people of New Jersey this is an especially relevant issue because the adverse health effects caused by PM pollution are felt most in metropolitan areas with a high density of diesel vehicles and traffic snarls. To help combat this problem Senator Smith proposed in 2005 a Senate Resolution to establish a ballot referendum on a series of steps to reduce the burden of diesel emissions in the state. In a press release from June 24, 2005 Senator Smith had the following to say about diesel emissions and his proposed ballot referendum:
"If both Houses sign off, and the Governor signs the bill into law, New Jersey voters will then be asked to support plans to reduce diesel emissions by nearly half in the State. Given the dramatic impact of excessive emissions on the health of our State's residents, additional safeguards are both warranted and necessary, and we hope the voters will agree that the diesel reduction programs we are promoting are the best solution to cleaning up our air.
Our legislation makes a very serious attempt to clean up the problem, reducing exposure to diesel pollutants for vulnerable children and shifting truck routes away from our most populated areas. It does not rely on new taxes to fund cleanup programs, but rather, reallocates a portion of the assessment that's already constitutionally-mandated on businesses in New Jersey. And diesel reduction efforts will save hundreds of lives each year from early death due to diesel-aggravated respiratory and cardiac illnesses."
In an article released by Senator Smith and Assemblyman John McKeon, the sponsor of the Assembly resolution, the following was said about the fate of diesel in the State:
"Earlier this year, the Boston-based Clean Air Task Force announced that New Jersey ranks second in the nation in harmful diesel emissions...
...The legislation was signed into law by Acting Governor Richard Codey on September 7, 2005. It will establish programs to reduce harmful diesel emissions over the nest 10 years. The reductions would be accomplished in large part through retrofit technology, including filters.
The retrofits would be paid for through the Diesel Risk Mitigation Fund…This means no new taxes are needed for this project. Over the next 10 years, the program will cost about $107 million and will retrofit public, private and school busses with devices that will reduces the amount of diesel particulate emissions in areas of New Jersey that have the highest population concentrations.
Through USEPA regulations requiring reduced emissions from diesel engines take effect in 2007, those rules only apply to new vehicles. When many diesel-powered vehicles can stay on the road for 30 years, we need to address the pollution emitted from older, dirtier vehicles. Thanks to technology, including filters and improved diesel fuels, we can. According to the Clean Air Task Force, particle filters, combined with the use of Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel fuel, have been found to reduce the amount of harmful particulates contained in diesel exhaust by up to 90%. And the health risk posed by diesel emissions can be virtually eliminated if emissions control strategies that are available today are enacted...
...A reduction in diesel emissions in New Jersey will not only improve air quality and reduce respiratory problems but it could also save anywhere from 300 to 800 lives annually. It is estimated that New Jersey can save $70 million annually on health care costs for people who suffer from asthma and other health problems as a result of breathing diesel emissions.