Most people have heard the warnings about the deterioration of the ozone layer and know that protecting it from environmental degradation is important not only for the environment’s sake, but for human health as well. The ozone layer that needs to be protected exists high in the atmosphere and is called “good ozone” or stratospheric ozone. Ground level ozone, on the other hand, is labeled “bad ozone” or tropospheric ozone, and it is found from the earth’s surface to twelve miles above. It is a pollutant that results from human activity, causing serious health and environmental problems. Ground level ozone and its effects are affected by the weather conditions on any given day.
Ground level ozone is formed when certain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are present with nitrogen oxide gases (NOx). Heat and sunlight cause the VOCs and NOx to undergo a chemical reaction that results in the formation of ozone. VOCs and NOx are naturally present in the environment in very small amounts. Sadly, the main reason for their abundance is human activity. VOCs are released into the environment through cleaning agents, cosmetics, paint and aerosol products. NOx is the result of automobile emissions, the extensive burning of fossil fuels and byproducts from industrial facilities.
Summertime encourages the formation of ground level ozone by providing the optimal conditions for the chemical reaction. VOCs and NOx are more likely to combine on hot and sunny days than on cooler or cloudy days. Wind patterns also affect its formation. Weather conditions can cause the VOCs and NOx to loiter in any given area, sometimes creating dangerous concentrations of ozone.
Weather affects ground level ozone most significantly in the summertime, but geographical regions that have little or no seasonal changes may feel the effects year round. Even low levels of ground level ozone can be harmful. Air quality agencies, partnered with the media, inform people when the level is expected to reach unhealthy conditions. Young children and the elderly are usually advised to stay indoors in an air conditioned environment, and activity should be limited or reserved for mornings and evenings.
Smog is one of the most obvious environmental conditions that results from high concentrations of ground level ozone. Respiratory problems, such as asthma, lung damage and decreased lung capacity, are also typical. Plants, trees and crops also suffer detrimental effects. Ground level ozone damages their leaves, inhibits their ability to photosynthesize and causes them to become more susceptible to diseases and pests. Crops produce fewer yields as a result.
Reducing ground level ozone is important for everyone. There are many simple and small steps that individuals can take to significantly reduce the conditions that cause it to form. Since automobiles are one of the largest factors, using public transportation, carpooling, biking or hiking is a big way to help reduce air pollution. When you do use an automobile, make sure that it is working efficiently; get regular tune ups and oil changes, and ensure that tires are inflated properly. Conserving energy by turning off lights and appliances that are not needed also makes a big difference. These measures also save you money on fuel and electric bills.
It is also important to use environmentally friendly cleaning supplies and paints. Remember that what is detrimental to the environment is most likely detrimental to your health as well.