If you’re like me, you’ve heard conflicting things about ozone. Some scientists are concerned that the hole in the atmospheric layer of ozone will harm us, while others warn against the hazards of having too much ozone in the air closer to the Earth’s surface. Both groups of scientists are right: While high-altitude ozone provides benefits to us on Earth’s surface, ground-level ozone is harmful to our health.
Atmospheric versus Ground-Level Ozone
Six to 30 miles above us in the atmosphere, there’s a layer of protective ozone. This “good” ozone shields us from the Sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays. It also helps regulate the temperature of the Earth it is habitable.
Though beneficial miles above the Earth, ozone becomes harmful when it exists closer to the ground. Ground-level ozone damages vegetation, including the crops humans rely on for sustenance, and causes a number of health effects in humans. The main ingredient in smog, ground-level ozone is one of the air pollutants measured in the EPA’s air quality index.
Ground-level ozone is created when chemical reactions between volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and nitrogen oxides occur in sunlight. Nitrogen oxides and VOCs are found in the exhaust from vehicles on the road, industrial emissions, and chemical solvents.
Health Effects of Ground-Level Ozone
Ground-level ozone has a number of negative health effects for humans. All of them affect the respiratory system. Ground-level ozone can make breathing difficult, even for healthy people. It can cause irritation in the lining of your lungs and even reduce their ability to function.
Exposure to ground-level ozone can cause congestion, coughing, irritation of the throat, and chest pain. People with conditions such as asthma, emphysema, and bronchitis experience more severe symptoms when they are exposed to ground-level ozone.
Often, when there are elevated levels of ground-level ozone, you’ll hear on the news that children should avoid playing outside. That’s because children are especially sensitive to the health effects of ground-level ozone due to their developing respiratory systems.
Preventing Ground-Level Ozone Health Effects
The easiest way to avoid the negative health effects of ground-level ozone is to avoid spending time outside on days when ozone levels are high. To reduce VOC and nitrogen oxide emissions, limit how much time your car sits idling and conserve energy when cooling and heating your home. During home-improvement projects, use low-VOC paints and dispose of them properly.
Don’t let ground-level ozone affect your health. Contact me to learn more about ozone pollution and how leading a chemical-free lifestyle can help.
Hoping you’re breathing easy and living life to the fullest,
Gene Wood, Life’s Pure Balance