Ozone Pollution and its Sources
By: Marina Kobasiuk
Tracking the air quality of a region becomes vitally important in the summer months as pollutants along with heat and humidity can combine to create major health risks. One of the most commonly observed gasses is Ozone (O3), a molecule formed from three atoms of oxygen. Ozone is naturally found in large amounts in the stratosphere, and high up in the atmosphere like that it is actually part of the reason life can thrive on Earth. Ozone absorbs the UVB rays that are from the ultraviolet part of the electromagnetic spectrum. Since these rays are tied to cellular damages in humans, plants, and marine creatures, the ozone layer protects us from those effects. Midway through the stratosphere this molecule is extremely helpful, but lower down in the troposphere it can become part of smog along with other compounds in the air, which is how ozone becomes a health risk. Sensitive populations such as the young and elderly, or those with conditions like asthma, should always be considered if there are air quality alerts, but healthy individuals are also effected so be aware of what official outlets in your local area recommend when these conditions occur!
Interestingly, ozone itself is not a pollutant that humans create directly. It is created when compounds containing nitrogen react in sunlight along with volatile organic compounds (VOCs). As it is technically a secondary pollutant, tracking the multitude of ways in which ozone can be created is a daunting task. Especially when VOCs are in so many of the products people use daily. In fact they have recently been found to be produced by many items designed to evaporate quickly, such as drying paint. As well as products that disperse scents through the same mechanism of evaporation, such as perfume or anything with a manufactured smell. And a significant number of the products created today have these chemicals added to make them less offensive to our senses. These all emit various VOCs and therefore are contributors to the creation of surface ozone all around the globe. Common assumption puts these as minor emissions but the quantities add up to create major pollution, as the study estimates they could equal that of vehicles. This disparity is due to how engines and their fuels are designed to prevent evaporation, which along with cleaner transportation has greatly reduces pollution. In direct contrast these scented products are made to create emissions for their own sake. Which means in daily life these compounds could linger inside and contribute to indoor pollution before they even reach the outdoors and diminish the overall air quality. So the research done on how these emissions interact with ozone levels and how they could possibly be regulated will be an important next step in controlling pollution.
Summary: Air Quality is a frequent concern in the summer months, so looking at ozone and how it is produced is one important part of a much bigger picture.