What is Ozone Pollution?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ozone pollution is a form of pollution which is characterized by high concentrations of ozone, a form of oxygen, at ground level. Exposure to ozone can cause serious health problems in plants and people, and ozone pollution is a major problem in some regions of the world. It tends to increase during periods of high temperatures and sunny skies, which is why bad air advisories are often issued on seemingly nice days.

Car emissions may contribute to ozone pollution.
Car emissions may contribute to ozone pollution.

Ozone contains three atoms of oxygen, and it is a highly unstable and poisonous gas. In the upper reaches of the Earth's atmosphere, however, it is highly beneficial, since it appears to filter the ultraviolet light from the Sun, making the Earth more pleasant to live on. Holes in the ozone layer caused by chemical pollution have been a cause of concern for scientists who worry that depletion of the ozone layer could lead to serious problems for people. At ground level, however, ozone is bad news, because it is highly corrosive, and it can damage the respiratory tract when inhaled and injure the vascular systems of plants, causing damage or death.

CFC compounds, used in aerosol sprays prior to 1995, destroy the ozone layer.
CFC compounds, used in aerosol sprays prior to 1995, destroy the ozone layer.

For children, ozone pollution is especially dangerous, because they spend more time outdoors than adults, and they engage in more strenuous activities. As a result, children are exposed to more ozone than adults, and this is especially true of minorities, who often live in crowded urban areas where ozone pollution is widespread and very common. Damage caused to the developing body of a child by ozone can happen much faster than damage to an adult, leading to serious respiratory problems.

The burning of fossil fuels increases the ground-level amount of ozone-creating volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
The burning of fossil fuels increases the ground-level amount of ozone-creating volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

This gas forms when volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and nitrogen oxide gases (NOx) experience chemical reactions. These reactions are triggered by exposure to sunlight and high temperatures, and when ozone forms in large enough quantities, it becomes a component in photochemical smog. VOCs and NOx are emitted by cars, factories, and numerous other human sources, and ozone pollution may start in urban areas with a high concentration of human activity, but it can spread across vast distances.

Air pollution leads to ozone pollution and acid rain.
Air pollution leads to ozone pollution and acid rain.

Air pollution does not just lead to ozone pollution. It also contributes to acid rain when pollutants like VOCs combine with water, causing acids to form. Therefore, regions which experience high rates of ozone pollution in the summer months can experience acid rain in the rainy season, contributing to year round environmental degradation. Because air pollution doesn't stop at international borders, neighboring nations with differing approaches to pollution regulation and control can come into conflict as pollution spreads from one to the other.

Ozone pollution can cause damage to human respiratory tracts.
Ozone pollution can cause damage to human respiratory tracts.
Ozone can damage the vascular system of plants.
Ozone can damage the vascular system of plants.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

anon968618

Starting with ozone and ending with CFCs, lots of lying and misrepresentation on this page, I tell you what. Go look at the timeframe of duPont's ending monopoly on CFCs and the ban and ask yourself who has been lying to you and about what?

GigaGold

@Leonidas226

I think that you are right in saying that people are adversely affected by pollution. I think we also need to remember that many of our practices have caused species to go extinct, and animals still suffer due to our negligence and active harm of their living environments. We are also causing global warming, which is harming species in the north and south poles.

Leonidas226

I think that this is over-analyzing our role in the environment. Human beings really don't have that much effect on the world, we only really harm ourselves. The worst part of pollution is the fact that poor people are made to suffer because of bad industrial techniques and dumping. I know of a house in my neighborhood that had to be demolished because toxic radioactive waste was found to be to close to it in the ground. The people had to move out and it was difficult for them. This is the worst part of pollution.

SilentBlue

@Renegade

This is an interesting point about mixing things from different levels. Mixing oil, which is well underneath the earth, with water, which is above it, causes the deaths of many sea creatures. How would we like it if some fish species needed ozone and let it spill into our air supply and kill us? This is what it is like to pollute at the expense of other species.

Renegade

Ozone is a good purifier of the air after a storm, but like anything, too much of it is harmful. I think a comparison to chlorine is a good one. Chlorine can keep a pool clean much like ozone can keep the air clean. But too much of either can be harmful to the environment. The effects of this pollution can be devastating. Substances from certain levels of the earth and the earth's atmosphere were meant to stay in those regions. Mixing them a little can be good, but mixing them a lot is harmful and is called pollution.

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