For the last couple of summers, I have been aware of increased Ozone or “Air Quality” warnings in my area. I know that is has been particularly hot these last few summers, and this season is shaping up to be no different.
I was driving home from work yesterday in rush hour traffic, and saw a sign on the highway that normally reads, “Click It Or Ticket”.I realized it said something different. The digital sign read, “Ozone Warning In Effect, Please Carpool.”
As the hot sun baked my stopped car, I found myself wishing I wore my sunblock. I began to wonder, what exactly IS an Ozone Warning? And why is it SO dangerous?
Ozone warnings are issued when the conditions are right for sunlight to act on pollutants in the air and also natural substances in the air to form “photochemical smog,” which includes the form of oxygen known as ozone.
“Ozone (O3) is a gas composed of three oxygen atoms. It is not usually emitted directly into the air, but at ground-level is created by a chemical reaction between oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOC) in the presence of sunlight. Ozone has the same chemical structure whether it occurs miles above the earth or at ground-level and can be “good” or “bad,” depending on its location in the atmosphere.” (EPA)
Ozone at low levels is bad because it can irritate our lungs and can be especially harmful to people (especially children and the elderly) with various kinds of illness, such as asthma and heart conditions.
According to the EPA, 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. (The latter is in extreme cases and very rare, found most often in people with serious pre-existing lung conditions)
“Car exhaust and industrial emissions, gasoline vapors, and chemical solvents as well as natural sources emit NOx and VOC that help form ozone. Ground-level ozone is the primary constituent of smog.” (EPA)
Sunlight and hot weather cause ground-level ozone to form in harmful concentrations in the air.
Ozone depletion refers to problems with ozone high in the air, in the stratosphere, where it blocks ultraviolet radiation that would otherwise reach the earth and do various kinds of harm.
Since the Ozone in the stratosphere has been more depleted over the last few decades, ultraviolet radiation has been more of a threat from our sun.
Ozone levels are the highest during the afternoon to early evening.
Limiting automobile usage can help reduce pollution levels.
Here are other pollution-reducing and energy-saving tips:
Use mass transit or carpool. Turn off lights and electrical appliances when not in use. Use fans to circulate air. If air conditioning is necessary, set thermostat at 78 degrees. Close the blinds and shades to preserve cooler air. Limit use of household appliances to “off-peak” times (after 7 p.m.). Set refrigerators and freezers at more efficient temperatures. Install energy efficient light bulbs and appliances with the Energy Star label.
“AccuWeather.com Chief Long-Range Forecaster Joe Bastardi and his team expect this summer to be hotter than normal across a large part of the nation, including the most heavily populated areas of the Northeast. “ accuweather.com
The hotter it gets, the worse or more frequent the Ozone Warnings are. So make sure you try to use those previously mentioned tips to save energy and reduce pollution.
Also, please wear sunscreen, even if you are spending most of your day indoors. If you plan on going out, and even spending most of that time in the car, it is always a good idea to put on that sunblock. With the depletion of the ozone in the stratosphere, the risk for bad sunburns and skin cancer is rising.
Take care of yourselves! We need each other to save this Earth!
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