What are Ultrafine Particles?

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What are ultrafine particles and how are they produced?

Ultrafine particles are small particles that are undetectable to the human eye. Over a thousand times smaller than a grain of sand, an ultrafine particle is defined as being between 1-100 nanometres in size.  

Ultrafine particles can occur naturally, in such cases as dust and volcanic eruptions. However, they can also be by-products of various manmade processes such as: 

  • Transportation: Conventionally powered vehicles with combustion engines emit ultrafine particles in their exhaust fumes. These are made up of carbon, nitrogen and sulphur compounds and can also contain metals and other trace elements. This happens as the vehicle burns fuel.  
  • Power generation: Burning fossil fuels to generate energy causes ultrafine particles to be released into the air. The types of nanoparticles that are produced depend on the fossil fuel being burned but can contain levels of mercury, cadmium and lead.   
  • Manufacturing and construction: The use of heavy machinery and production processes can cause ultrafine particles as a by-product. This could be through welding, grinding, sanding, painting or blasting products. The ultrafine particles could come from the surface of the materials being worked on or from the process itself in the form of solvents, lubricants or coolants used during the production process.   
  • Agriculture: Agriculture can cause ultrafine particles to be released into the air. This might be from dust produced when harvesting crops, livestock operations or through the use of heavy machinery.  
  • Cosmetics Ultrafine particles can be created when using powder-based cosmetics like nail extensions, face powders and procedures like nail filing and buffing. 
  • Dentistry: Various tools used in dentistry can cause ultrafine particles to be released into the air. Tools like high-speed drilling and polishing can create ultrafine particles made from enamel and dentin. Other ways the dental industry can produce ultrafine particles can be by using resin or glass dental materials as particles can be produced by mixing and fixing these materials.  
  • Laser engraving industry: The process of ablation heats the surface that is being engraved which heats and vaporises the engraved surface releasing very small particles into the atmosphere.   

What are the effects of ultrafine particles on our health?

Some ultrafine particles are harmless, but because they are so small, they can easily make their way into the lungs and bloodstream which can cause health problems.  

The effect of ultrafine particles on people’s health generally depends on a number of factors such as the type of particles that are created in the production process and the length of exposure to ultrafine particles. 

If ultrafine particles are made from heavy metals, sulphates or microplastics then they have been known to cause some of the following symptoms or health problems. 

  • Respiratory issues 
  • Cardiovascular issues 
  • Neurological conditions 
  • Cancer 

Not everyone is equally affected by exposure to ultrafine particles. However, some people might be more susceptible to their effects depending on their genetics, age and general health.  

How to reduce exposure to ultrafine particles

As ultrafine particles are so small, they cannot be seen by the naked eye, and exposure in everyday environments can be difficult to monitor and control. Many countries are involved in various schemes to help reduce pollution caused by ultrafine particles from transportation and power generation, this might be through cycle-to-work schemes, clean air zones and other green initiatives like clean air zones and renewable energy sources.  

Currently, there is no legislation in place to remove ultrafine particles as technology is still advancing in the development of removing ultrafine particles. In industries where dangerous fumes and other pollutants are created, there is a responsibility for businesses to provide protection for their employees and the public. Currently, our HEPA filters can remove 99.997% of particles down to 0.3 microns or 300 nanometres.  

Browse our product selection to find the best fume extraction for your business, or speak with one of our experts to find the right system for your needs today. Alternatively, check your existing fume extraction system by booking an LEV Test with our team.