Ozone: Good or Bad?
Ozone (O3) in the atmosphere shields everything on the Earth’s surface from the sun’s harmful UV rays. But ozone can also form on the planet’s surface and cause a variety of health problems including chest pain, coughing, and a sore throat. Ground-level or “bad” ozone is created by chemical reactions between oxides of nitrogen and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the presence of sunlight. Vehicle emissions are some of the major sources of these chemicals. As the ground heats up in the summer, ground-level ozone increases.
How Ozone Affects Your Health
Breathing high levels of ozone can cause headaches and irritate your lungs and airways. It can also aggravate conditions like asthma, emphysema, and chronic bronchitis. People most likely to experience health effects caused by ozone include people with lung diseases, seniors, and small children. While ozone levels are typically higher in large urban areas (ex: the Front Range), they can still reach dangerous levels in the Four Corners region during the summer. Luckily, there’s a lot that you can do to protect you and your family from the health effects of ozone. Start by monitoring the Air Quality Index, which will tell you when pollution levels are likely to reach levels that could be harmful. (Tip: The AQI also measures other pollutants in the air like wildfire smoke.)
Steps to Protect Yourself
When ground-level ozone levels are high, limit the amount of air that you breathe while you’re outside. For example, think about spending more time indoors, where ozone levels are usually lower. Choose easier outdoor activities (like walking versus running) so you don’t breathe as hard. And plan outdoor activities in the morning and evening, when ozone levels are usually lower.
Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Jewish Health.