Tiny particles may be more dangerous than once believed — studies

E&E  • Posted: Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Scientists are finding new reasons to worry about secondary organic aerosols, a subset of the fine atmospheric particles that kill an estimated 50,000 Americans each year

A new set of scientific findings has revealed that these super-tiny aerosols actually have a greater total mass — and are therefore much more dangerous — than previously understood.

Collectively, a handful of older studies plus new research from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the University of California indicate that air pollution-control measures are based on scientific models that show only part of the problem.

“If the authors’ analysis is correct, the public is now facing a false sense of security in knowing whether the air they breathe is indeed safe,” said Bill Becker, of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies.

The research has led scientists and regulators to call for new models, strategies and technologies for addressing secondary organic aerosol particles, which form after combustion as pollutants and natural chemical compounds intermix.

The findings have also stirred questions about whether scientists should adjust their climate change modeling systems (Felicity Barringer, New York Times, Feb. 18). — PK