Death By Ozone

by Daniel Brouse

Tropospheric ozone is very destructive to plants and animals. Tropospheric ozone is killing an unprecedented number of trees. Unfortunately, it is also causing a massive amount of respiratory problems in humans, such as, asthma. Even more unfortunate is the number of deaths ozone is causing. A 2012 study published by the Institute Of Physics estimates over 2 million deaths each year are caused by air pollution. The study estimates that around 470,000 people die each year because of human-caused increases in ozone.

Tropospheric ozone (ground-level ozone) is found in the air closest to the Earth's surface. Human-caused ozone is increasing dramatically. One of the factors contributing to the increase is the use of ethanol in gasoline. The dangerous ozone (O3) is created when vehicle exhaust is not completely combusted. Nitrogen Oxides (NOx) and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) in the exhaust react to temperature and sunlight creating ozone.

NASA reports, "Ozone in the lower atmosphere (troposphere) is toxic to human beings and many species of plants, causing harm without visible symptoms." Eventually, trees show symptoms by developing patches where the leaves die. After this symptom becomes visible, there is little to no chance of the tree recovering. [Examples of trees suffering from ozone poisoning: Picture (jpg) | Video (mp4)

The EPA has developed a program called Action Alert Days. On Ozone Action Days it is recommended to not breathe outside. The EPA states, "Ozone in the air we breathe can harm our health -- typically on hot, sunny days when ozone can reach unhealthy levels. Even relatively low levels of ozone can cause health effects. Children, people with lung disease, older adults, and people who are active outdoors, including outdoor workers, may be particularly sensitive to ozone. " Jogging, playing and anything that increases the rate of breathing are particularly dangerous to your health.

Ozone primarily affects the respiratory and immune systems. The damage is permanent, untreatable and often results in death. The Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District reports, "Roughly one out of three people in the U.S. is at risk of experiencing ozone-related health effects."

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