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Airborne Nanoparticles (PM0.1) in Southeast Asian Cities: A Review

Faculty of Geosciences and Civil Engineering, Institute of Science and Engineering, Kanazawa University, Kanazawa 920-1192, Ishikawa, Japan
Department of Geography, Faculty of Social Sciences, Chiang Mai University, Muang, Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand
Faculty of Environmental Management, Prince of Songkla University, Hat Yai 90112, Thailand
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Sustainability 2022, 14(16), 10074;
Received: 13 July 2022 / Revised: 10 August 2022 / Accepted: 12 August 2022 / Published: 15 August 2022
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Aerosols and Air Pollution)


PM0.1 (particles with a diameter ≤ 0.1 µm), nanoparticles (NPs), or ultrafine particles (UFPs) were interchangeably used in the scientific communities. PM0.1 originated from both natural and human sources; however, PM0.1 and its effects on the environment, visibility, and human health to understanding air pollution levels, sources, and impacts in Southeast Asia (SEA) countries continue to be challenging. The concentrations of PM0.1 in most SEA countries are much worse than in western countries’ environments. A further motivation of this reviewed article is to provide a critical synthesis of the current knowledge and study of ambient PM0.1 in SEA cities. The primary influence of characteristics of PM0.1 appears to be local sources, including biomass burning and motor vehicles. Continuous monitoring of PM0.1 in mass and number concentration should be further understood. A critical review is of great importance to facilitating air pollution control policies and predicting the behavior of PM0.1 in SEA.

1. Introduction

Particulate matters (PM) have a complex chemical composition, including acids (nitrates and sulfates), organic chemicals, and heavy metals. Some of these components are hazardous to human health [1,2,3]. Particularly, smaller particles down to the nano-size range mainly come from human sources and contain highly hazardous components such as heavy metals, carbon components, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) [4,5]. PM has a wide range of particle sizes and can categorize into three modes: coarse particles (PM10-2.5; aerodynamic diameter between 2.5 and 10 μm), fine particles (PM2.5; predominantly in accumulation mode, aerodynamic diameter range from 0 to 2.5 μm), and ultrafine particles (PM0.1; nucleation mode, aerodynamic diameter smaller than 0.1 μm, or 100 nm) [6]. PM0.1, ultrafine particles (UFPs), and nanoparticles (NPs) are interchangeably used in scientific societies [5,7]. NPs are used to represent particles from engineering material released into the environment. Concurrently, other scientist groups use various names. For example, toxicologists typically use ultrafine, fine, and coarse modes, and monitoring organizations, i.e., the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US-EPA), use PM0.1, PM2.5, and PM10 to refer to the ambient PMs [8]. In the recent decade, it has been found that PM0.1 poses the most risks to human health [9]; it is not enough information on the status of PM0.1, and its emission sources remain incomplete because PM0.1 is challenging to study due to its tiny size, high chemical reactivity, and rapid changes [10,11].
The data on physical, optical, and chemical characteristics of PM0.1 are scarce worldwide, including in all Southeast Asian (SEA) countries, where in the past decades have been the dominant contributors of PMs into the atmosphere [12]. Several research publications have investigated the airborne PM-bound chemicals in SEA due to ecological damage and health effects [13,14]. Atmospheric PMs in SEA countries are presently based on PM10 and PM2.5 and a small expanse on PM1 [15,16]. Quite a lot of studies based on satellite imaging, ground-based detecting, and mathematical modeling techniques exposed that aerosol plumes during smoke-haze exceeded the PM national standard of SEA, which has a very high value compared to the World Health Organization (WHO) or other countries’ standard [13,14,17]. A recent study confirmed that PM0.1 occupied 15–20% of the total suspended particulates (TSP) in the SEA atmosphere [18,19,20,21].
All these available data for PM0.1 in western countries, i.e., Europe and the United States of America (USA), are more progressive [11,22]. Venecek et al. (2019) [3] reported that the PM0.1 concentration across many cities in the USA is higher than 2 µg/m3 during episodes of summer pollution. On the contrary, the yearly averaged PM0.1 mass concentration is less than 1 µg/m3. Furthermore, studies show that in the United Kingdom (UK), the PM0.1 level based on the estimated fraction of PM10 in each emission source is as follows; production process, non-road transport, agriculture, industrial off-road mobile machinery, transformation industries, energy combustion, combustion in industries as well as waste incineration (15%, 14%, 9%, 9%, 8%, 7%, and 4%, respectively) [8]. The PM0.1 level is typically measured in terms of particle number concentrations (PNC) due to the very low mass concentrations in all cities around the western part of the world [5,7,8]; however, the data for SEA city environments are still separate in detail. So, the motivation of this review is to recognize the recent data, sources, and knowledge gap in PM0.1 emission and exposure levels. The authors discuss the current situation of PM0.1 study in SEA to understand better and future perspective of ambient PM0.1; this review collects the recent research papers on all aspects of PM0.1 in SEA. Over 60 peer-reviewed journals in Scopus and ISI databases were used to analyze and integrate synthesis and group. The search terms and keywords included PM0.1, biomass burning, ultrafine particles, haze pollution, health effects, emission inventory, and clean air policies. The synthesis-reviewed article prefers to use the recent publication in 5 years, from 2017 to 2021.

2. PM0.1 Mass Concentration in Southeast Asia Atmosphere

The PM0.1 fractions in the ambient PM have a very low particle mass concentration but a huge number of particles [7]. Most particles by numbers lie below 0.1 µm (100 nm), and they are in the PM0.1 range; however, their concentration in terms of mass per volume is very low. No standards for ambient PM0.1 have been adopted in Asian countries. The European Committee for standardization announced that the Condensation Particle Counter (CPC) is a standard protocol to measure UFPs [23]; however, only the emission standard for diesel and gasoline direct injection engine road vehicles must meet a type-approval of UFPs for non-volatile particles of >23 nm diameter (The Solid Particle Number >23 nm method; SPN23) [24]. The most widely used measure UFPs is particle number concentration (PNC) due to their tiny volume and mass concentration. The estimated concentration based on 10 µg/m3 in PM2.5 found that PM2.5 1 particle/cm3 equal to PM0.02 (<20 nm) 2.4 × 106 particle/cm3, or PM10 1 particle/cm3 similar to UFPs 1.0 × 106 particle/cm3 [25]. The particle number concentration and surface area are suitable for measuring UFPs’ small mass concentration in the past decades [7].
The average PM0.1 mass concentration in SEA has shown in the past decade (Table 1). The initial study of ambient PM0.1 in SEA and published in an international peer-review journal is based on a survey in Thailand from 2014 to 2105 [20]. The PM0.1 in Bangkok and Chiang Mai, Thailand, was 14.80 ± 1.99 and 25.21 ± 4.73 µg/m3, respectively. Bangkok is the capital city in Thailand and one of the densest populated cities in SEA. The high episode of PM0.1 in Chiang Mai arises from biomass fires in the dry season (February–April).
In Thailand, PM0.1 in Pathumthani, in Bangkok Metropolitan Region areas, also elevated mass concentrations in wet and dry seasons [26]. In Hat Yai, southern Thailand [27], PM0.1 was 10.17 ± 2.23 µg/m3 representing PM concentrations lower than in other parts of Thailand; moreover, Zhao et al. (2016) [28] reported that they compared PM0.1 during the dry season (Mar-Apr 2016) in many cities, including Chiang Mai, Bangkok, Songkhla, Riau, Ho Chi Minh City, Phnom Penh, and Kuala Lumpur. The study found that mass concentration (µg/m3) decreased in the order, Phnom Penh (18.9) > Chiang Mai (16.5) > Hanoi (15.4) > Ho Chi Minh City (13.1) > Riau (12.4) > North Bangkok (11.9) > Hat Yai (10.9) > Kuala Lumpur (9.3) > Bangkok (7.7).
The higher mass concentration in Upper SEA countries than in lower SEA countries due to the dry season during that period that the open biomass burning has been reported by several researchers [13,20,29]. PMs increased every dry season (February–April), and they started to rise around February and peaked in March before decreasing by mid-April [20]. The primary emission source of PMs worsening during the dry season in these areas was identified as open biomass burning, including forest fire and crop residue burning [20,26]. The above-mentioned corresponded with the accumulated fire hotspot locations that were high in the dry season and low in the wet season. Each active fire location represents the center, approximately decreasing by mid-of 1 km pixel flagged as one or more actively burning hotspots/fires [13]. Generally, PM0.1 is derived from diesel exhaust, and it was sensitive to biomass burning in this area [20]. In addition, ambient PM0.1 in Vietnam and Indonesia is very progressive. In Indonesia, the study by Amin et al. (2021a) [18] and Putri et al. (2021) [21] suggested that the PM0.1 mass concentration in the dry season is higher than in the wet season in all monitoring sites. In addition, the mass concentrations by different monitoring sites have attention as follows, urban > suburban > rural. In Vietnam, many studies of PM0.1 in Hanoi, the capital city in Vietnam, are more progressive than in other SEA cities [28,30,31,32,33,34,35]. The results show that mass concentrations in different environments in Hanoi ranged from 1 to 17 µg/m3.
Table 1. Mass concentration of PM0.1 at different locations in the Asian Environment.
Table 1. Mass concentration of PM0.1 at different locations in the Asian Environment.
LocationSite DescriptionPeriodConcentration (µg/m3)Reference
Pathumtani, ThailandSuburbanOctober 201913.47 ± 0.79[26]
SuburbanJanuary–February 202018.88 ± 3.99
Hat Yai, ThailandMixedJanuary–December 201810.17 ± 2.23[27]
Hat Yai, ThailandMixedMarch–April 201610.90[28]
North Bangkok, ThailandUrban-trafficJuly 2014–June 201514.80 ± 1.99[20]
North Bangkok, ThailandUrban-trafficMarch–April 201611.90[28]
Bangkok, ThailandUrban-trafficMarch–April 20167.70[28]
Chiang Mai, ThailandSuburbanSeptember 2014–June 201525.21 ± 4.73[20]
Chiang Mai, ThailandSuburbanMarch–April 201616.50[28]
Riau, IndonesiaUrbanMarch–April 201612.40[28]
North Sumatra, IndonesiaUrban-trafficFebruary 201913.10 ± 3.80[21]
Rural-volcanoMarch 20197.10 ± 2.50
Industry AreaFebruary–March 201916.80 ± 4.00
School EnvironmentFebruary 201915.90 ± 1.60
Padang, IndonesiaRuralMarch 20185.36[18]
August 20185.57
Muaro Jambi, IndonesiaSuburbanMarch 20189.20[18]
August 20189.61
Pekanbaru, IndonesiaUrbanMarch 201810.92[18]
August 201815.16
Hanoi, VietnamMixedAugust–December 20155.36–5.79[30]
Urban-trafficAugust–December 20156.06–11.90
Hanoi, VietnamMixedNovember–December 20155.44 ± 2.03[31]
Hanoi, VietnamMixedJuly–August 20151.47 ± 0.54[32]
MixedMarch 20161.71 ± 0.61
Hanoi, VietnamMixedMarch–April 201615.40[28]
Hanoi, VietnamResidential AreaJanuary 20198.74[33]
April–May 20195.28
Hanoi, VietnamSuburban 1 (Rice burning)November 20196.50 ± 2.20[34]
Suburban 2 (Rice burning)November 201911.50 ± 3.90
Hanoi, VietnamSchool EnvironmentNovember 2019–January 202017.07 ± 3.70[35]
Urban-trafficMarch–April 201613.10[28]
Phnom Penh, CambodiaUrbanMarch–April 201618.90[28]
Kuala Lumpur, MalaysiaSuburbanMarch–April 20169.30[28]

3. Sources and Characteristics of PM0.1 in Southeast Asia

Regarding the natural sources, primary PM0.1 is mainly generated by forest fires, while lesser fractions come from maritime aerosols and volcanic eruptions [5,19]. On the other hand, anthropogenic sources of PM0.1 include transportation (on- and off-road automobiles, diesel engines, airplanes, and shipping), industrial combustion processes including biomass combustion and waste incineration, cigarette smoking, and meat cooking [7]. So, the primary emission sources of PM0.1 are both natural and anthropogenic sources. Most studies of emission sources of PM0.1 in Asia are related to road vehicles [36,37,38]. In an urban area, traffic is the primary source of PM0.1 emissions. Diesel engines dominate PM0.1 in megacities, including Shanghai, China [39], Hanoi, Vietnam [30], and Bangkok, Thailand [20]. Diesel engines have about two times higher emission factors than gasoline engines [40]. On the other hand, forest fires emit particles that dominate traffic emissions, and the size distribution peaks at approximately 120 nm for a fresh aerosol plume [9]; moreover, Phairuang et al. (2019) [20] stated that open biomass burning in central and northern Thailand dominated the release of carbon components into the atmosphere. The PM0.1 particle, primarily derived from motor vehicle emissions, is also strongly affected by open biomass burning in the upper part of Thailand. Hence, this activity significantly affects air quality during the dry season. Similarly, an ambient PM0.1 study in Hanoi, Vietnam, showed high mass concentrations of PM0.1 during rice straw burning periods [30]; however, some possibly essential sources, such as domestic wood burning, are poorly quantified in SEA [41].
The chemical composition study in NPs is still limited, especially in ambient PM0.1 particles; however, a few publications have been from NPs and chemical composition sources. For instance, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) dominate PM emissions [4,41]. Most PAHs emissions are generated from incomplete combustion of natural and human sources, including vehicle exhaust, biomass burning, industrial activities, and coal combustion. Hata et al. (2014) [4] studied the characteristics of NPs emitted from biomass fuels burning in Asia. The result demonstrated that approximately 30% of the biomass fuels burning smoke had a mass of <100 nm. Additionally, PM smaller than 0.43 μm significantly contributed to the toxicity of PAHs and the fraction of Water-soluble Organic Carbon (WSOC). Similarly, Chomanee et al. (2018) [42] considered the PAHs in smoke plumes released from the para-rubber fuel-wood combustion; this result displays that the ultrafine (PM0.07) smoke particles comprised the highest number of PAHs and Benzo[a]pyrene-Toxic Equivalence Quotient (BaP-TEQ). The important fraction of NPs had the most considerable emission of toxicity per unit PM mass compared to fine and coarse PM; this is a critical point to concentrate on smaller particles, especially NPs, on any emission sources due to a lack of reliable information on the origins and magnitudes in SEA countries [20].
Secondary PM0.1 aerosol is mainly generated from atmospheric photochemical of gaseous precursors and by condensation of semi-volatile vapors. Such new particle formation can occur during low relative humidity and wind speed at quiet pre-existing particle surface areas and global radiation [43]. Reche et al. (2011) [44] described that new particle formation in an urban area in Europe during warmer and sunny climates is essential to air pollution. In SEA, Thuy et al. (2018) [30] stated that Secondary Organic Carbon (SOC) is more dominant in smaller particles than in larger particles; and the SOC in PM0.1 contributes up to 42.7% of the OC level in Hanoi, Vietnam. The secondary atmospheric PM0.1 in the SEA environment remains poorly understood. Based on the chemical, optical, and thermal properties of such samples, these carbon components can be broadly classified into two main fractions, i.e., organic carbon (OC) and elemental carbon (EC). The source of OC can be primary (POC) and secondary emissions (SOC), while EC is mainly emitted from primary sources [27,30]. The importance of carbonaceous particulate matter (OC and EC) in the Earth’s climate system is becoming more broadly recognized due to its ability to induce climate changes by directly disrupting the Earth’s radiative balance via the extinction of incoming solar radiation and indirectly by serving as cloud condensation nuclei (CCN). Carbonaceous particulate matter was also demonstrated to significantly influence air quality and human health [18,19,20].

4. Health Concerns of PM0.1

PM0.1 strongly believes in high toxic properties because a high surface area can absorb many poisonous substances. After they penetrate the human organ systems, allowing translocation and interactions to a human body organ and highly potential deeply into circular systems via respiratory mechanism [2]. The World Health Organization (WHO 2013) [17] suggested that the epidemiological data on PM0.1 are too scarce to estimate or use in policy-making for air quality control management of PM0.1. The Health Effects Institute (HEI 2013) [45] reflected that the ongoing evidence did not convincingly support the suggestion that PM0.1 alone can account for actual conduct for the adverse effects that have been associated with atmospheric pollutants such as PM2.5 and PM10.
In health risk assessment, toxicity equivalent concentration (TEQs), calculations based on toxic equivalent factors (TEFs), can be used to estimate health risks associated with PAHs [41]. High concentrations of PMs containing PAHs are well-known in symptoms, i.e., eye irritation, diarrhea, vomiting, and nausea. The detrimental effects of PAHs hang on the mechanism of exposure. Benzo[a]pyrene (BaP) is the well-known PAH to cause cancer on a laboratory scale resulting long term exposure. The BaP-TEQ is a widely used indicator to estimate the exposure to PAHs to human health. On the other hand, there have been limited studies on the characteristics of PM0.1 and toxic PAHs in the Southeast Asian environment; moreover, it is vital to note that finer particles are a more significant source of carcinogenic properties and cause more human health consequences than larger particles due to their higher surface area that can absorb many toxic elements.
Phairuang et al. (2021, 2022) [46,47] investigated the health risk of PM0.1 and its trace elements, such as Aluminium (Al), Barium (Ba), Potassium (K), Iron (Fe), Chromium (Cr), Copper (Cu), Nickel (Ni), Sodium (Na), Manganese (Mn), Magnesium (Mg), Titanium (Ti), Lead (Pb), and Zinc (Zn), on humans in Bangkok and Hat Yai, Thailand. PM’s primary sources were road traffic, industry, and biomass burning. In addition, the total cancer risk from all carcinogenic elements was high in adults, indicating that the carcinogenic risk is within a tolerable risk assessment range.
Guan et al. (2017) [48], in a study conducted in China, reported that increasing 10 μg/m3 in PM2.5 from any emission source was linked to a 3.1% increase in the risk of hospitalization as well as a 2.5% increase in mortality. Crippa et al. (2016) [49] reported that the short-term exposure to the burning of agricultural residues and peat-land fires in heavy haze episodes in 2015 from Indonesia might have caused 11,880 excess mortalities. Most studies have stated the adverse effect of inhaled atmospheric PM0.1 on human health to continue lacking in SEA. Three are still limited information between PM0.1 and disease; however, there have not become fully aware of the critical hazards of ambient PM0.1 on human health [7].

5. Challenges Study in PM0.1

5.1. Evaluation of PM0.1

The present status and characteristics, comparison between cities and countries need assessments of events and long-range transportation. For instance, SEA has been a source of PM pollutants affecting countries both inside and outside this region [14]. The transport of plumes from Indonesian forest fires involves, e.g., Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, and southern Thailand [27]. US-EPA has mentioned that PM is one of the criteria pollutants of atmospheric pollution, the most widespread health threat. PM is the generic term used for these air pollutants, consisting of complex mixtures of solid or liquid droplets suspended in the breathing air, varying in size and composition [17]. According to the particle size criteria, most SEA countries designated PM2.5 as a pollutant; however, PM0.1 is more concerned about health impact than larger PM sizes. Therefore, further studies on the sources, abundance, chemical compositions, and migration of PM0.1 between regions and countries are needed.

5.2. Information on PM0.1 Emission Sources

The Emission Inventory (EI) of PM0.1 is subject to very high mass and particle number emission uncertainties. There are very few emission factors (EFs) of PM0.1 available through official EI guidebooks. EFs on PM0.1 number, mass, and chemicals should be studied more closely and extensively. Samae et al. (2022) [50] reported the first EFs of PM0.1 for solid biomass combustion in Thailand, including 11 types of biomasses (Avicennia alba Blume, Xylocarpus moluccensis, Rhizophora mucronate, bagasse, sugarcane leaves, corn residue, rice straw, rice stubble, palm fiber, palm kernel, and rubberwood). The PM0.1 mass fraction was estimated at approximately 1–8% of total PM and the EF was shown to be in the range of 0.1–0.28−1. There is no completed EI of PM0.1 in Asia due to a lack of information on EFs [20]. Knowledge of the EFs of PM0.1 is essential to developing strategies for pollution control and air quality management.

5.3. Development and Application of New PM0.1 Tools

5.3.1. Measurements of Atmospheric PM0.1 Particles

Measurements of atmospheric particles are inherently more complex than other gases-phase pollutants. The new technology to size-classified PMs down to PM0.1 is also vital to studying the physical and chemical characteristics of ambient PM0.1 [51]. For example, the inertial filter (IF) technology to collect nanoparticles in a short sampling period will be essential for gathering the ambient PM0.1 because of its limited mass concentration [52,53]. The artifacts due to semi-volatile evaporation should be much smaller than those of conventional nanoparticle samplers, e.g., low-pressure impactors and Nano-MOUDI [54]. In SEA, two main types of cascade samplers based on the inertial filter technology by Otani et al. (2007) [55], referred to as “PM0.1 personal sampler” and “PM0.1 ambient sampler” were used. A PM0.1 personal sampler was developed by Furuuchi et al. (2010) [56] and revised by Thongyen et al. (2015) [57].

5.3.2. A High-Volume PM0.1 Air Sampler

A High-Volume PM0.1 air sampler that can collect a large amount of PM0.1 in a short sampling duration should be useful for toxicity evaluation that normally requires a rather large PM mass for toxicity tests. Because of their large specific surface area, the longer retention time in the sampling system causes artifacts as evaporation of semi-volatile components and degradation by oxidation of chemicals. Considering PM0.1 is related to chemical compositions with minimal artifacts during air sampling; therefore, this is also a crucially important issue [53,54]. The High-Volume air sampler for PM0.1 can improve the PM0.1 instrument toward (1) understanding ambient PM0.1 based on various chemicals in PM0.1 collected with high time resolution, (2) risk assessment using a large amount of PM0.1 collected by the tool [58,59].

5.3.3. The PM0.1 Real-Time Sensor

The PM0.1 real-time sensor in the internet of things (IoT) monitoring network (big data) will play an essential role in understanding the PM0.1 plume migration and transportation, with temporal variations by geo-specific location [60]. The real-time and IoT sensor for PMs monitoring has been a vital tool, potentially becoming an integral part of air quality monitoring and management, especially during the haze episode of intensive biomass burning smoke in the SEA environment [61].

5.4. Summarizing Facts on PM0.1 for Policy-Making

Future researches on PM0.1 need to focus on intervention, classification, and quantification of mass and number concentrations in an ambient that is influenced by mixed emission sources and also on personal levels to detrimental human health effects. The environmental quality standard regarding PM0.1 in SEA is only focused on mass concentrations. The precise future study of particle types and sizes that govern PM0.1 will fulfill the research gaps, perspectives, and emerging challenges for PM0.1 policy-making in SEA.

6. Conclusions

Future studies on atmospheric nanoparticles in SEA should focus on the abundance, sources, distribution, and temporal and spatial variations of PM0.1 in urban and rural SEA environments. The exposure to PM0.1 should be quantified to understand the exposure of nano-size particles in humans. Continuous monitoring of PM0.1 in mass and number concentration should be further understood. Future research on PM0.1 needs to focus on identifying and quantifying PM0.1 particles. Finally, better knowledge about the physicochemical characteristics of PM0.1 generated by various emission sources in the SEA environment will help fill the gap in air quality policies and management in this region.

Author Contributions

Conceptualization, W.P.; writing—original draft preparation, W.P.; writing—review and editing, M.A., M.H., M.F. All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript.


This work was financially supported by the Office of the Permanent Secretary, Ministry Higher Education, Science, Research and Innovation (Grant No. RGNS 63-253) in Thailand.

Institutional Review Board Statement

Not applicable.

Informed Consent Statement

Not applicable.

Data Availability Statement

Not applicable.


The authors wish to thank Milton S. Feather for improving the English.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.


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Phairuang, W.; Amin, M.; Hata, M.; Furuuchi, M. Airborne Nanoparticles (PM0.1) in Southeast Asian Cities: A Review. Sustainability 2022, 14, 10074.

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Phairuang W, Amin M, Hata M, Furuuchi M. Airborne Nanoparticles (PM0.1) in Southeast Asian Cities: A Review. Sustainability. 2022; 14(16):10074.

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Phairuang, Worradorn, Muhammad Amin, Mitsuhiko Hata, and Masami Furuuchi. 2022. "Airborne Nanoparticles (PM0.1) in Southeast Asian Cities: A Review" Sustainability 14, no. 16: 10074.

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