Particulate Matter: Why monitor PM10 and PM2.5?

Aeroqual Dust Monitoring

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Last Updated

16 April 2024


06 April 2020



Many of you will have heard people talk about PM10 and PM2.5, but what exactly is it and why should it be measured?

What is particulate matter (PM)?

Particulate air pollution is defined by the US EPA as an air-suspended mixture of both solid and liquid particles. They are often separated into three classifications; coarse, fine, and ultrafine particles. Coarse particles have a diameter of between 10 µm and 2.5 µm and settle relatively quickly whereas fine (1 to 2.5 µm in diameter) and ultrafine (<1 µm in diameter) particles remain in suspension for longer. Keep in mind that due to how the scale is built, PM10 (coarse) also automatically contains PM2.5 (fine) and PM1.0 (ultrafine). Additionally, PM2.5 (fine) contains PM1.0 (ultrafine) as well. To put things into perspective, human hair has a diameter of 50-70 µm and a grain of sand has a diameter of 90 µm.

When someone talks about PM10 they are referring to particles smaller than 10 µm. These particles include dust, pollen, and mold spores. Conversely, when someone references PM2.5 they are referring to particles smaller than 2.5 µm. These smaller particles include combustion particles, organic compounds, and metals. Particle size has also been defined in terms of respirable and inhalable dust, each with its own health effects and monitoring requirements.

What is the best way to measure particulate matter?

At Aeroqual we have our own range of high-quality air quality monitors, giving you accurate and reliable measurements on PM levels.

Aeroqual helps organizations successfully measure PM2.5 and PM10. Below are just some of the examples:

Tetra Tech needed on-site compliance monitoring to ensure remediation activities conformed to Rule 403 for fugitive dust emissions.

Langan required compliance with NYS DEC and to reassure the community during a challenging remediation of a brownfield site in Manhattan's Seaport Historic District.

City Rail Link needed real-time measurements of respirable dust to respond to site conditions quickly and protect workers from personal exposure.

Where does particulate matter come from?

Particulate matter can come from both human and natural sources. Natural sources include sea salt, wildfire smoke caused by forest fires, pollen, and mold. As they are natural occurrences, they are harder to control and are usually left unregulated. Human sources, however, can be regulated and understanding where PM comes from is very important. PM10 is most associated with road dust and construction activities. Wear and tear of brakes and tyres on vehicles and crushing activities at construction sites can all contribute to a rise in PM10. Alternatively, PM2.5 is more associated with fuel burning, industrial combustion processes and vehicle emissions.

Why should we measure ambient particulate matter?

The growing awareness of both PM10 and PM2.5 is largely associated with the potential damaging effects they can have on the human body. The World Health Organisation (WHO) believes particles are affecting more people worldwide than any other pollutant.

Primary health effects include damage to the respiratory and cardiovascular systems. Due to the small size of PM10 and PM2.5 particles, they can penetrate the deepest parts of the lungs as well as access the gas exchange regions of the lung via diffusion.

It is important to note that the duration of exposure is also a significant factor to consider, as even short-term exposure to particulate matter can have detrimental effects on the body.

As a result of the damaging health effects from PM10 and PM2.5 the WHO recommend the following exposure limits:


10μgm3 Annual Mean

24μgm3 24 Hour Mean


20μgm3 Annual Mean

50μgm3 24 Hour Mean

These guidelines can be hard to follow, and many authorities do not meet the limits above, for example, the United States and Europe have much higher PM10 exposure thresholds. Governments must weigh up the potential damage to population health with the cost of reducing particulate concentrations. A great first step to understanding the seriousness of the issue is to monitor PM.

It is worth also mentioning larger particles (above 10 µm). These sized particles are not usually acknowledged in government health legislation as they can be filtered out in the nose and throat. Instead, they are known as a nuisance rather than a health risk. Total Suspended Particles (TSP) is the term used when referring to larger particles. TSP does not have a specified size limit and therefore covers the full range of particle sizes. It is common for TSP to be measured alongside PM10 and PM2.5, particularly at industrial sites where nuisance dust assessment and monitoring is becoming more frequent. It is worth noting that the EPA previously legislated TSP and by previous definition, TSP was the term to mean particulate air pollution.

Who should be monitoring particulate matter?

Heavily urbanised areas where there are high traffic volumes coupled with high population densities are most at risk. It is estimated that the largest city in China, Shanghai, has approximately 6.3 million residents exposed to PM at levels that exceed WHO guidelines.

Many countries have legislation that require ambient PM monitoring in cities. Roadside monitoring, which is a more specialist activity, is commonly used by governments and local authorities to measure PM levels in cities to ensure legislation is met. For further information on roadside monitoring please have a look at our roadside application page which links to case studies and a range of monitoring instruments that can be used to measure PM10, PM2.5, TSP and other air pollutants commonly found at the roadside.


Industries such as the petrochemical and agricultural sectors where burning processes are the norm as well as mining and construction sites are also required to measure the concentration of PM emitted. To see an example of how a company is monitoring PM, have a look at our particulate monitoring case study which explains how a coal bulk handling terminal in Canada was able to monitor and raise the alarm for coal dust exceedances.

In summary, along with local government, these are the types of industries that should be monitoring particulate matter:

  • Mines and quarries

  • Cement factories

  • Construction/demolition sites

  • Petrochemicals

  • Agricultural/Waste

What instruments can be used to measure airborne particles?

There are a wide range of instruments available that can measure particulate matter to varying degrees of accuracy. To simplify things, they can be split up into 4 classifications:

1. Certified Reference Instruments

To be included in this classification the instrument needs to use the gravimetric method of particulate measurement. This is the most accurate method currently available for measuring particulate matter and is widely used by regulatory bodies. Instruments include high vol and partisol™ samplers. Despite the high level of accuracy there are disadvantages to this method when compared to other options. Gravimetric measurement it is not a real-time form of measurement, it can only provide an average data set e.g. a daily average. It is also a very manual process resulting in high operational costs.

2. Certified Equivalent Instruments

There are several different equivalent methods and they all allow data at higher temporal resolution meaning they can report hourly averages (as low as 15 mins in some cases) rather than daily averages. The operational cost of running these instruments is relatively low and they can run automatically for extended periods of time. Instruments include the TEOM from Thermo, BAM from MetOne and the EDM 180 from Grimm. Many of these types of instruments require additional shelter and are not easily integrated with additional sensors such as wind speed and direction.

3. Certified Indicative Instruments

These instruments have a significantly lower purchase and operational cost compared to reference and equivalence instruments. They can usually be installed outside without additional shelter and can report data at minute resolution. The Aeroqual Dust Sentry is a certified indicative instrument, being MCERTs certified and SC AQMD pre-approved.

4. Indicative Instruments

Instruments in this category do not have any formal certification. They have similar benefits when compared to the certified indicative instruments but will only be able to be used in applications when no certification is required.

How can we help you monitor particulate matter?   

The easiest way to start monitoring particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10) is by using our handheld Ranger | Dust air quality monitor.

Other options include our perimeter air monitoring range, with the Dust Sentry measuring solely particulate matter (PM1, PM2.5, PM4, PM10 and TSP).

We also have a range of products that measure particulate matter and pollutant gases at the same time.

If you want to learn more please contact us.

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