We assessed the health risks of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) ambient air pollution and
its trace elemental components in a rural South African community. Air pollution is the largest
environmental cause of disease and disproportionately affects low- and middle-income countries.
PM2.5 samples were previously collected, April 2017 to April 2018, and PM2.5 mass determined.
The filters were analyzed for chemical composition. The United States Environmental Protection
Agency’s (US EPA) health risk assessment method was applied. Reference doses were calculated
from the World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines, South African National Ambient Air Quality
Standards (NAAQS), and US EPA reference concentrations. Despite relatively moderate levels of
PM2.5 the health risks were substantial, especially for infants and children. The average annual PM2.5
concentration was 11 µg/m3
, which is above WHO guidelines, but below South African NAAQS.
Adults were exposed to health risks from PM2.5 during May to October, whereas infants and children
were exposed to risk throughout the year. Particle-bound nickel posed both non-cancer and cancer
risks. We conclude that PM2.5 poses health risks in Thohoyandou, despite levels being compliant with
yearly South African NAAQS. The results indicate that air quality standards need to be tightened
and PM2.5 levels lowered in South Africa.