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Why is Ozone bad for you?

What is the difference between ground-level ozone and the ozone layer?

Ozone, O3, is a gas that is formed by sunlight and oxygen molecules. The ozone layer is a naturally-formed stratospheric shield that blocks the sun's harmful ultraviolet radiation. Ground-level ozone, on the other hand, is a gas created by chemical reactions in the Earth's atmosphere, and is one of the main ingredient of smog. While 90% of Earth's Ozone is usually found extremely high up in the stratosphere, Ozone is a potentially toxic air pollutant that many governments regulate in order to reduce levels at the ground-level.

Where does ozone come from?

Ozone is a secondary pollutant that is created by sunlight acting on Nitrogen Oxides and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the atmosphere. Ground level Ozone can come from many sources, both from reacting with natural and man-made Nitrogen Oxides:

  • motor vehicles
  • power plants
  • combustion sources
  • lightning strikes
  • volcanoes
  • oceans
  • biological decay

And sources of VOCs like:

  • motor vehicles
  • wood burning
  • industrial emissions
  • chemical plants
  • refineries
  • cleaners and disinfectants
  • paints, paint strippers, varnishes, and finishes
  • tobacco smoke
  • forest fires

How does geography impact ozone and smog?

Heat and weak winds encourage the creation of smog, as pollutants like nitrogen oxides and VOCs react with sunlight to form ground-level ozone. This analysis, which was published in a statistical model in 2016, found that increased summer heat waves will likely lead to more days of unhealthy ozone levels by 2050.

Ozone pollution is a common problem in heavily populated basin cities surrounded by mountains. This smog becomes trapped in urban valleys and is difficult to disperse by wind, contributing to high levels of air pollution. While cities can experience high levels of ozone due to hot dry summers, Vietnam especially with its heavily agricultural area produces nitrogen oxides emissions from the soil that can lead to smog.

What are ozone’s commercial uses?

Ozone has several industrial uses. These include:

  • purifying air and drinking water
  • industrial waste treatment
  • disinfecting agent
  • oil use
  • bleaching and waxes
  • creation of other chemicals
  • food hygiene
  • increasing fruit and vegetable shelf-life

Industrial workers in paper and pulp mills, wastewater treatment plants, fisheries, and in outdoor areas with high levels of ozone can face health risks from ozone exposure.

How does ozone affect your health?

Ground-level ozone is a respiratory irritant and can be harmful to your health.Older adults, children, infants, people with asthma or lung diseases, and people who exercise outdoors may be more vulnerable to the effects of ozone exposure.  

Ozone can cause several short-term symptoms, including:

  • shortness of breath
  • pain during deep breaths
  • lung and throat irritation
  • wheezing and coughing

More serious ozone exposure effects can include:

  • increased asthma attacks
  • reduced lung function
  • continued damage to lungs after symptoms have subsided
  • causing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease 

A 2020 study found that short-term exposure to ozone increased hospital admissions for pneumonia. The connection between pneumonia and ozone was particularly strong among elderly smokers who were more likely to experience a respiratory infection when exposed to high levels of ozone. Those with bronchitis, asthma, or emphysema may also experience worse symptoms.

A 2008 study published in Environmental Health Perspectives found that children in New York State who were frequently exposed to high ozone levels were at greater risk of being admitted to the hospital for asthma than children with less exposure.

Another 2008 study published in Environmental Health Perspectives determined that ozone levels in Southern California also contributed to an increase in asthma hospitalizations among children.

What are the environmental impacts of ozone?

Ozone can have a significant impact on sensitive vegetation, including plants that are used for food or medicine:

  • interference in plants’ ability to produce and store food
  • physical damage
  • slowed growth
  • reduced habitat quality
  • water and nutrient cycle changes
  • increased susceptibility of sensitive plant species to disease, damage from insects, the effects of other pollutants, and harm from severe weather

A number of tree species are sensitive to ozone and may experience injury or stunted growth, including:

  • black cherry
  • quaking aspen
  • ponderosa, loblolly, and white pine
  • red alder
  • yellow and tulip poplar

The difficulty of managing ozone due to its pervasive nature, the complexity of ozone chemistry, and the challenges involved in determining how much ozone contributes to pollution make it a major environmental concern.

Cities around the globe are struggling to reduce air pollution, even though governmental intervention has been attempted in the past. Air quality is harmful to humans and creates a burden on economies, as seen through our Cost of Air Pollution counter. Knowing how much it costs to clean up air pollution can help make sure that communities have the resources they need to improve their air quality.

Source: IQAir