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Ground Level Ozone & Health Risks

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Published on Apr 24, 2014

Ozone is found in two regions of the Earth's atmosphere, at ground level and in the upper regions of the atmosphere. Both types of ozone have the same chemical composition (O3) and while upper atmospheric ozone protects the earth from the sun's harmful rays, ground level ozone is the main component of smog and can cause health concerns.

Ground level ozone is created by chemical reactions between oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Ozone is likely to reach unhealthy levels on hot sunny days in urban environments, but has also been observed during cold months in some high elevation areas in the Western United States. Ozone can also be transported long distances by wind so even rural areas can experience high ozone levels.

Even relatively low levels of ozone can cause health effects. People with lung disease, children, older adults and people who are active outdoors may be particularly sensitive to ozone.

Children are at greatest risk from exposure to ozone because their lungs are still developing and they are more likely to be active outdoors when ozone levels are high. Breathing ozone can trigger a variety of health problems including chest pain, coughing, throat irritation and congestion. It can worsen bronchitis, emphysema and asthma. Ground level ozone also can reduce lung function and inflame the linings of the lungs. Repeated exposure may permanently scar lung tissue.

Ozone also affects sensitive vegetation and ecosystems, including trees and plants during the growing season.

Emissions from industrial facilities and electric utilities, motor vehicle exhaust, gasoline vapors, and chemical solvents are some of the major sources of the gases that create ozone. Some ozone generators are sold as air cleaners, but as the EPA states, "No agency of the federal government has approved these devices for use in occupied spaces."

These are just a few things to know about ground level ozone and how it can impact a person's health. To learn more about this or other health & safety, environmental or indoor air quality issues, please visit the websites shown in the video.

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