The effects of inhaling particulate matter has been widely studied in humans and animals and include asthma, lung cancer, cardiovascular issues, and premature death. The size of the particle is a main determinant of where in the respiratory tract the particle will come to rest when inhaled....Similarly, particles smaller than 2.5 micrometres
, PM2.5, tend to penetrate into the gas-exchange regions of the lung, and very small particles (<= 100 nanometers) (donrhummy: that would be diesel particles)
may pass through the lungs to affect other organs. In particular, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association indicates that PM2.5 leads to high plaque deposits in arteries, causing vascular inflammation and atherosclerosis — a hardening of the arteries that reduces elasticity, which can lead to heart attacks and other cardiovascular problems . Researchers suggest that even short-term exposure at elevated concentrations could significantly contribute to heart disease.
The smallest particles, less than 100 nanometers (nanoparticles), may be even more damaging to the cardiovascular system. There is evidence that particles smaller than 100 nanometres can pass through cell membranes and migrate into other organs, including the brain. It has been suggested that particulate matter can cause similar brain damage as that found in Alzheimer patients. Particles emitted from modern diesel engines (commonly referred to as Diesel Particulate Matter, or DPM) are typically in the size range of 100 nanometres (0.1 micrometres).
In addition, these soot particles also carry carcinogenic components like benzopyrenes adsorbed on their surface. It is becoming increasingly clear that the legislative limits for engines, which are in terms of emitted mass, are not a proper measure of the health hazard. One particle of 10 Ám diameter has approximately the same mass as 1 million particles of 100 nm diameter, but it is clearly much less hazardous, as it probably never enters the human body - and if it does, it is quickly removed. Proposals for new regulations exist in some countries, with suggestions to limit the particle surface area or the particle number.
The large number of deaths and other health problems associated with particulate pollution was first demonstrated in the early 1970s  and has been reproduced many times since. PM pollution is estimated to cause 22,000-52,000 deaths per year in the United States (from 2000)  and 200,000 deaths per year in Europe.